Thinking of Going Off the Grid After Winning the Lottery? Not So Fast
Everyone dreams of it: having a small piece of paper with the right numbers printed on it and winning the life-changing $200 million, $700 million or $1 billion jackpot. But what happens after you win?
Many winners decide to remain anonymous — or at least try to — but that can be difficult when many states demand that the winners of large jackpots show their faces at news conferences.
At his own news conference in Madison, Wis., Manuel Franco, 24, who in a Powerball drawing last month won $768 million, the third-largest jackpot in United States lottery history, seemed to be trying not to divulge too much information about himself, perhaps to keep random family members from coming out of the woodwork. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, he declined to say where he grew up, where he lived, what kind of car he drove or where he used to work. (He quit two days after winning.)
Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota and Ohio allow lottery winners to conceal their identities if the winnings exceed a certain dollar amount, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Other states, like New York, make it easy for winners to collect their prizes under the cover of an L.L.C. or an entity. But states like Wisconsin want winners to come forward to claim their prizes, although Wisconsin does not require them to appear at a news conference as Mr. Franco did.
After Mr. Franco’s $768 million win, “it seems a little ridiculous that there isn’t privacy when it comes to that,” Gary Tauchen, a Wisconsin state representative, said. “Certainly you have a lot of fourth and fifth cousins and it is just a situation when you’re under high stress.”
While Mr. Franco was answering questions about his lottery winnings as concisely as possible, Mr. Tauchen was introducing a bill seeking to ensure the privacy of lottery winners in Wisconsin.
“I know that it is one of those life-changing experiences when you need some time to adjust,” Mr. Tauchen said. “You don’t need the stress of other people putting pressure on you.”
And for jackpot winners like Mr. Franco, the pressure comes nearly immediately.
“For the next two weeks, people are going to be outside of his house,” Jason M. Kurland, a lawyer who has represented several winners of large lottery jackpots, said on Wednesday.
“I get those letters every week,” Mr. Kurland said, referring to the mail he receives intended for his clients. “They range from congratulatory letters to individuals having a tough time asking for handouts, to organizations looking for donations, to business men and women asking for investors.”
Mr. Kurland, who calls himself the Lottery Lawyer and represented the person in South Carolina who won the $1.54 billion Mega Millions jackpot last year, advises his clients to delete all their social media accounts before they claim their winnings. He also tells them to try to remove their address from public view as much as they can and to get new phone numbers. If there are children involved, he will hire security for the first couple of days.
Mr. Kurland tries to help his clients retain some privacy after they win, but if privacy is hard to achieve in 2019, anonymity is nearly impossible.
“It is very hard to participate in civil life and be anonymous,” Albert Gidari, the privacy director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, said on Wednesday. “You can’t buy a car in cash and avoid disclosing who you are because now car dealers are financial institutions,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that it was nearly impossible to transfer money in and out of the United States without disclosing who you are to the government.
“He can get a lot of lawyers and accountants and figure out how to move and hide a lot of that money at great risk to himself for not complying with government reporting,” Mr. Gidari said. “You can’t get very far, but you can get far enough to get some degree of obscurity, even if you can’t get anonymity.”
Last year the winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot in New Hampshire took the state to court to retain her anonymity while claiming her prize. The woman’s lawyers argued that she would be accosted with requests for money, and the state argued that lottery winners must be disclosed to make sure that winners are not related to lottery employees and that winnings are distributed fairly. The court decided disclosing the winner’s name would be an invasion of privacy and allowed the woman to anonymously claim her winnings.
“You want to be able to enjoy this crazy amount of money you luckily won, but at the same time you want to keep your privacy, so it’s a balance,” Mr. Kurland said.
But going off the grid, setting up shop on the beach and enjoying the fruits of your ticket are not necessarily possible without informing the government.
“If you leave the country, it’s worse,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that leaving the country and failing to report assets in the United States and abroad could lead to losing those assets.
Some states allow the winners of large jackpots to remain anonymous, but is it ever possible to retain your privacy after a life-changing windfall?
Arizona becomes latest state to shield lottery winners’ names
PHOENIX — Arizona joined a growing number of states allowing winners of big lottery jackpots to stay anonymous Wednesday after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation letting winners of jackpots of $100,000 or more request that their names not be made public.
The move comes as privacy concerns are increasingly trumping lottery groups’ wishes to publicize winners to boost sales and show that the games are fair.
Four years ago, just five states allowed anonymous winners, but the number has now grown to at least 10. A handful of others allow trusts to claim prizes.
Ducey’s spokesman, Patrick Ptak, said in a statement that the new law will protect Arizonans’ privacy rights while maintaining current safeguards that ensure the integrity of the Arizona Lottery.
“Winning the lottery shouldn’t come at the expense of someone’s privacy or safety,” Ptak said.
Just two weeks ago, New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took the opposite view and refused to sign a similar measure in order to prioritize transparency.
“To be sure, the governor is clear about the concerns raised by proponents, i.e., that certain bad actors could take advantage of lottery winners if their names are made public,” spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said in a statement last week. But “New Mexicans should have every confidence in the games run by the lottery.”
At least eight state legislatures considered measures shielding winners’ names this year, and governors in Virginia and Arizona have signed theirs into law.
Republican state Rep. Nancy Barto introduced the Arizona measure, saying she wanted to protect winners from harassment or worse if their names became public. Current state law allowed Arizona winners to remain anonymous for 90 days.
Last week, a spokesman for the Arizona Lottery said it was important for winners to be named to maintain transparency and the integrity of the system. The lottery didn’t take an official position on the bill as it worked its way through the Legislature under state policy.
“The only way the public has an absolute guarantee of integrity as far as real people winning these prizes is to be able to know who wins these prizes,” state lottery spokesman John Gilliland said.
Arizona on Wednesday became the latest state to allow winners of big lottery jackpots to stay anonymous. The move comes amid privacy concerns.