Lottery wins come with burden. Should Powerball winners be anonymous?

Many states legally require lottery winners' names to be public knowledge, a requirement that some critics say essentially paints 'a big red target' on their backs.

Nick Ut/AP
Balbir Atwal, the owner of a 7-Eleven store that sold a winning Powerball lottery ticket, holds up a Millionaire Made Here, sign at his store in Chino Hills, Calif., Thursday. Atwal, says he was at home when a friend called to tell him that someone in Chino Hills had hit the jackpot. Mr. Atwal says he didn't know the ticket was purchased at his store until he turned on the TV.

As the nationwide Powerball jackpot soared over one billion dollars, many contemplated the blessings that such a windfall could bring to their life. But how many considered the consequences?

Winning the lottery can be the happiest, and scariest, moment of someone’s life. In many states, lottery winners names must be made public by law. As a result, says Illinois attorney Andrew Stoltmann, "they get harassed and harangued into some horrifically bad investments."

Those who unexpectedly come into such a massive sum of money are often at the mercy of conmen and cheats. Sometimes, the consequences are even worse. According to Mr. Stoltmann, winners have “a big old target painted on their backs.”

In 2006, a Florida janitor named Abraham Shakespeare won a $17 million state lottery. By 2008, Mr. Shakespeare had already spent most of his winnings. His diminished fortune did not deter Dorice Dee Moore, however, who befriended Shakespeare and became his financial advisor.

A year after meeting Ms. Moore, Shakespeare disappeared. His body was later found buried behind Moore’s ex-boyfriend’s home. Moore is currently serving a life sentence for Shakespeare’s murder.

With consequences that range from being swindled to being murdered, why do states continue to announce winners’ names?

Critics of anonymity laws, which do exist in some states, say that these laws make it easier for individuals to cheat the system and rig the lottery.

Iowa state prosecutors, for example, point to an instance where Eddie Tipton, an employee of the Multi-State Lottery Association, rigged the system. MUSL oversees games in 37 US states and territories. Mr. Tipton operated with associates to rig games in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, eventually winning $2.6 million.

Tipton was finally caught in Iowa during an attempt to claim a $16.5 million Hot Lotto prize. According to Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich, Iowa’s anti-anonymity laws helped lawmen finally catch Tipton. Mr. Rich says the laws were, “the layer of security he couldn't break.”

Other proponents of state laws that require winners to disclose their names cite the public excitement that jackpot winners generate. When names are disclosed, it helps potential lottery customers feel as if “real people can win.” This, in turn, encourages more people to play the game.

In 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie nixed a bill that would have delayed the release of winner names for a year. Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania have passed such laws.

Other states do allow lottery winners to remain anonymous. Delaware, Kansas, Ohio, and Maryland are just some of the states that do. Other states allow winners to send proxies, usually attorneys, to collect their prizes. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado, and Vermont operate on this system.

In some instances, states that do not generally allow anonymity make exceptions for individuals who feel their security might be at stake. In Oregon, for example, a man from Baghdad who won $6.4 million in an August drawing was allowed to remain anonymous due to fears for his family’s safety.

All three states that sold winning tickets in Wednesday’s $1.6 billion drawing have anti-anonymity laws.

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