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Should lottery winners' names be kept secret?

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 4, 2013 at 1:49 pm •  Published: January 4, 2013

An effort in New Jersey by Democratic Sen. Jim Whelan took a middle ground between public release and privacy, calling for a one-year delay in releasing winners' names. It also didn't make it out of the Legislature last year, but he said he'll keep pressing to get it passed.

Whelan said a one-year delay would give winners a chance to adjust while still keeping the public disclosure lotteries say they need. However, Whelan said he doesn't really buy the agencies' arguments for public disclosure.

"I'm not sure how many people are spurred to buy a lottery ticket because they see a picture of someone in the paper holding up a big check - and I don't think people don't buy a ticket because they think the whole thing's fixed," Whelan said.

Of 44 states participating in Powerball and 33 in Mega-Millions, only Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota and Ohio allow blanket anonymity, said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, which oversees the games.

"Obviously, it is a law that is designed to ensure an open and transparent process, so that the public can be ensured that insiders are not winners," Strutt said. "But in today's world, most of us can understand the wish to remain anonymous."

The most famous modern lottery fraud case happened in 1980 when Pennsylvania Lottery district manager Edward Plevel and TV announcer Nick Perry were convicted of fixing the result of the Daily Number drawing.

Authorities found that some of the ping pong balls used in the game were injected with paint to make them too heavy to float up the winning slots. The result paid $3.8 million, a record at the time, and eight people involved in the fix won a total of about $1.2 million.

Former Missouri child services worker Sandra Hayes shared a $224 million Powerball jackpot with a dozen co-workers in 2006 and said she understands the push for anonymity.

Hayes said she received many requests for money or to make investments, both at work (she kept her job another month) and at home, where she'd find people waiting on her porch. Her lump sum payout after taxes was more than $6 million.

Even if people are allowed to remain anonymous, it's often inevitable that their identities will become known.

Steve Thornton, a lawyer in Bowling Green, Ky., has helped two big lottery winners shield their names through corporations despite rules in his state that require disclosure of winners. Even though they were kept out of the public eye, one winner couldn't stay hidden.

"It was not many months later that lots of people knew who won, even though it was not released, because of their gifts and their spending." Thornton said.