When most people think of winning the lottery, they dream of buying a new house, riding around town in a limo, or telling an annoying boss that they are quitting. Much more rarely do they imagine paparazzi surrounding their homes while old acquaintances and complete strangers come out of the woodwork to beg for a handout. Can lottery winners protect themselves by remaining anonymous?
The Controversy Over Anonymity
There are pros and cons to allowing lottery winners to remain anonymous. While some jackpot winners might enjoy being in the spotlight for a little while, others have experienced negative consequences. These have included broken relationships with friends or family members who wanted a share of the money, campouts around their house by journalists hoping for a story, and safety concerns.
Many of the lottery curse victims suffered from the fame that came with their jackpot win, being robbed or even murdered for their money. Other winners experienced bomb threats or frivolous lawsuits from people hoping to profit from a settlement.
On the other hand, publishing the winners' names is good for the entire lottery system. It makes it easier to uncover scams, for example, like one involving Multi-State Lottery Association computer programmer Eddie Tipton. Tipton snuck code into the program that's supposed to randomly draw winners, making it possible for him to predict the numbers that would be drawn. He used this hack to win several lottery prizes, but was caught when he bought a winning ticket in his own name. When his identity was revealed, the connection to his work became obvious and the scam was uncovered. If he could have cashed the ticket anonymously, he might have gotten away with stealing millions and millions of lottery dollars.
Revealing the lottery winners' names also builds trust and excitement, which drives ticket sales. In 2013, New Jersey governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have let lottery winners remain anonymous for a year, despite overwhelming bipartisan support for it, saying: "This bill could undermine the transparency that provides taxpayers confidence in the integrity of the Lottery and its games. Moreover, the bill could have the unintended consequence of reducing Lottery sales by hampering marketing efforts and the public excitement generated when Lottery winners are announced.”
Which States Allow Lottery Winners to Stay Anonymous
Powerball Rules About Staying Anonymous Vary By State
Although Powerball is a national lottery, individual states have leeway about how they handle the game. They can set their own rules about where the lottery ticket money goes, how long winners can wait before they claim their winnings, and whether or not entrants can remain anonymous when they win.
Most states have chosen to require winners to reveal their identities. So far, only nine have decided in favor of letting winners choose whether to go public or not.
The states that allow lottery winners to remain completely anonymous are: Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota, and Ohio. Some of these states have restrictions about how large the prize has to be before you can claim it anonymously.
In some states, you can create a trust or an LLC and claim the lottery jackpot in your organization's name. This can help shield your identity from the curious.
Some other states have made exceptions to their anonymity policies in cases where the winner can demonstrate that revealing their name would put them in significant danger.
Note that the state in which you buy the ticket regulates whether you can stay anonymous, not your state of residence. So if you're a resident of a state like Virginia or Pennsylvania, hopping over the border to buy your tickets in Maryland could help you stay anonymous if you hit the jackpot.
Alternative Ways for Lottery Winners to Protect Their Privacy
In 2018, a woman won a $559 million jackpot from the New Hampshire Powerball lottery. She took several sensible steps before claiming her jackpot, including signing the back of the ticket and hiring a lawyer to help her protect herself. But her lawyer told her that by signing the ticket, she had forfeited the right to remain anonymous by assigning her lottery win to a trust.
Claiming the lottery prize in the name of a trust makes it more difficult for outside parties to determine the winners' names. This option is not available in every state.
The New Hampshire Powerball winner sued for the right to stay anonymous and a judge ruled in her favor, giving her an exception. However, this won't work for every case.
So there's controversy over whether you should sign a lottery ticket when you buy it. Signing it immediately protects you if your winning ticket is lost or stolen, but it prevents you from being able to protect your anonymity.
Even if you can't keep your name out of the papers, there are other steps that you can take to protect your anonymity if you win a lottery jackpot. One lottery winner held his oversized check in front of his face at the press conference, but it's unclear if that did much to help him.
A better decision would be to close all of your social media accounts, change your telephone number, and arrange to spend the first few nights after your name goes public away from home. Use the press conference to get your story out so that reporters won't be hounding you for an exclusive story.
Even if you can't use it to protect your identity, setting up a revocable trust or charitable foundation can help you protect your winners. If you use an experienced lawyer to set up your trust, you can put restrictions on how and when the money is used. This means that you have a ready answer for anyone who comes to you asking for money. and a defined way of deciding who, if anyone, receives a helping hand from your win.
The most important part of protecting your anonymity after a jackpot win is to keep quiet about the prize and lay low until the furor blows over. Another big winner or another story is bound to come along soon, and the pressure will ease off.