Note to the Kansas and Maryland winners of last month's $656 million lottery jackpot: Count your anonymous blessings.
The states, where ticket holders claimed their $218.6 million portions in anonymity, are two of only six states that allow lottery winners' names to remain secret.
Officials in states other than Kansas, Maryland, Delaware, Michigan, North Dakota and Ohio make public the names of lottery winners, with rare exceptions. Most see the identities of winners as a matter of public record subject to open-records law while others say revealing the names adds to the lottery's credibility and encourages others to play.
"People like to see the people who are actually winning," said Katy Smith, a spokeswoman from the Oklahoma Lottery. "If we don't let people know people are winning, then that raises questions."
Mike Lang, an Illinois Lottery spokesman, agrees and says winners in his state must come forward publicly "unless there is a compelling reason not to."
That's why, last week, everyone learned at a news conference that Merle and Patricia Butler, a retired couple from Red Bud, Ill., will take home $110.5 million in Mega Millions winnings after taxes. The two claimed the third and final portion of last month's jackpot in public, per Illinois Lottery rules, Lang said.
States that publicize winner's names do so for commercial reasons rather than public good, said Andrew Stoltmann, an attorney who has represented lottery winners.
"It's a horrible rule for states to force winners to come forward," he said. "The single-best commercial that the lottery has is the press conference that winners hold discussing how the lottery winnings have changed their lives. ... There's a real disconnect between the interest of the lottery officials and the winners. The best thing a winner can do is remain anonymous."
Lottery officials nationwide, however, maintain that games involve public funds and as such are subject to disclosure laws just like any other matter handled by governments. Exceptions are made in some cases. In Illinois and North Carolina, people with restraining orders and other extreme cases can remain anonymous. In Florida, law enforcement officers can be kept secret.
In states like Colorado, Connecticut and Vermont, winners can bypass having their names released by claiming winnings through a trust or a limited liability company. However, at least one state, Oregon, forbids such practices and requires that individuals come forward.