More states moving to allow lottery winners to remain anonymous

This seems to be turning into a national trend. I previously wrote about the case of a woman in New Hampshire who won a major lottery jackpot but wasn’t getting her money because she refused to allow her name to be revealed to the public. After a lengthy court battle, a judge allowed her to collect the money and remain anonymous, citing concerns over her privacy and possible dangers she could face.

The desire for the option to remain anonymous seems to be spreading and legislators in quite a few states are responding. The latest case is in Arizona, where the proposal was approved by the legislature and now awaits a decision from the governor as to whether he will sign it into law. (Des Moines Register)

Arizona could be the next state to join at least nine others with laws that let winners keep their names secret under a proposal headed to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Four years ago, just five states allowed anonymous winners, and a handful of others allowed trusts to claim prizes.

The executive director of the Iowa-based lottery association, which runs the Powerball game in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said he understands why some states are moving toward winner secrecy.

“However, the disclosure of winner names is one way lotteries are working to keep the process transparent,” association Executive Director J. Bret Toyne said. “It shows the public that everyday people are randomly winning the prizes.”

Not all of these efforts are succeeding. Here in New York State, the legislature overwhelmingly approved a similar measure last year. (And by “overwhelmingly” I mean it passed by 61-1 in the state Senate and 140-3 in the Assembly.) But Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill. And because New York is New York and the Democrats are too timid to challenge their own party leaders, they failed to even attempt an override, though the votes were obviously there.

Doug Ducey hasn’t said which way he’s leaning yet, but through a spokesman, he’s already talking about the need for transparency. With that in mind, don’t be shocked if Arizona follows the same pattern as New York.

As I’ve said before, I understand the transparency concern. There have been cases of lottery fraud uncovered in the past, which means that (more than likely) there are others we haven’t discovered. And people need to feel confident that the system isn’t rigged. Nobody is going to play if the “winners” are all fictional and the state is keeping the money or if the winners are friends of people working inside the lottery system. Hey… it’s the government. Exactly how far are you going to trust them?

But at the same time, too many people have been harassed, threatened or, in a couple of cases, even assaulted or killed after winning a big jackpot. Plenty of polls indicate that the first thing most people would want to do after hitting a major payday like that would be to “keep it secret.” How do we balance these concerns? I’ve been wondering if it might not be possible to set up some sort of citizen’s commission to review all the major jackpots in each state and verify the identity of the winners and any possible connections they might have to the government or the lottery system. If their reports kept the winners’ names redacted but vouched for the security and integrity of the system, that might be enough. Food for thought, anyway.