States wrestle with winners' privacy vs. integrity of games
In the California lottery handbook for winners, officials offer a few suggestions to newly minted millionaires. Change your number. Stop answering your phone. And find a reputable financial adviser.
That's because along with the money comes 15 minutes of fame as the names of winners are required to be made public in California and many other states.
All eyes are on the Los Angeles suburb of Chino Hills, where one of three tickets in Wednesday night's record-breaking $1.6 billion Powerball drawing was purchased. No one has come forward to claim the prize in California.
"We're waiting for who this person is," said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Lottery.
Traverso said large jackpots like the one in Wednesday's drawing drive debate over whether the names of lottery winners should be made public. Past winners have complained of being besieged by con artists and swindled by friends.
Critics of the disclosure laws often point to the case of Abraham Shakespeare, who won $30 million in the Florida lottery in 2006, and three years later, was killed by a woman who managed his winnings. (See Woman found guilty of murder in lottery winner's death, Lottery Post, Dec. 11, 2012.)
Andrew Stoltmann, an Illinois attorney who has represented winners, told the Associated Press that making winners' names public is like "throwing meat into a shark-infested ocean."
But lottery officials say it's important public information to ensure the drawings are transparent and to deter would-be cheaters.
"We want people to know we have winners every day," Traverso said. "If people don't see people winning the lottery, then they won't buy tickets. ... The only time we hear talk of changing the regulations to allow anonymity is when we have jackpots like (Wednesday's)."
Besides Chino Hills, the two other winning Powerball tickets were purchased in Munford, Tenn., and Melbourne Beach, Fla. A Tennessee couple, John and Lisa Robinson, announced on the "Today" show on Friday that they were the winners from their state.
Tennessee lottery officials later confirmed the couple were the winners in an afternoon news conference. The family plans to take a lump sum payout of $327 million. (See Tennessee couple claims share of $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot, Lottery Post, Jan. 15, 2016.)
Showed ticket on TV
John Robinson, who pulled the winning ticket from his shirt pocket on the "Today" show, said he realized he was losing his anonymity after the announcement.
"Now I'll be nervous because everybody knows," he said on the broadcast.
(See Lottery veterans question Tennessee family's behavior before claiming Powerball winnings, Lottery Post, Jan. 16, 2016.)
All three states with winning Powerball tickets have laws requiring the identity of the winner to be made public. In Tennessee and Florida, the states' lottery policy is to identify a person's name and city of residence.
California requires that a person's name be made public, but not their city. Lottery officials include the person's name, where the ticket was purchased and how much was won in press releases.
"You aren't compelled to do a press conference or have your picture taken, but we are going to release your name because it's public information," Traverso said. "We want people to know the lottery is creating winners, and we want to be sensitive to our winners that they may not want their details thrown out there to the world."
California has required that the names of winners be made public since voters first passed Proposition 37, also known as the California State Lottery Act, in 1984. Changing the antianonymity law would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and approval of the governor.
Only six states allow lottery winners to remain anonymous — Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina. Some states allow winners to shield their identity by claiming their winnings through a trust or a limited liability company.
No anonymity in state
In recent years, several states have considered changing their laws to allow for winners to protect their identity. California lawmakers have not taken up the issue — and with good reason, said Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco.
"Winners need to be public so the public has faith in the lottery," Ting said. "Beneficiary anonymity cannot overshadow governmental accountability to the public."