PHOENIX — When two winning tickets for a record $588 million Powerball jackpot were claimed from the Nov. 28 drawing, the world focused on the winners.
A Missouri couple appeared at a press conference. The Arizona winner, however, skipped the press conference where lottery officials said last month that someone had claimed the second half of the prize.
The differing approach to releasing information on the winners reflects a broader debate that is playing out in state legislatures and lottery offices nationwide: Should the winners’ names be secret?
Lawmakers in Michigan and New Jersey think so, proposing bills to allow anonymity because winners are prone to falling victim to scams, shady businesses, greedy relatives, and violent criminals.
Lotteries object, asserting that publicizing the winners’ names drives sales and helps ensure that people know there isn’t something fishy afoot.
Most states require the names of lottery winners be disclosed, albeit in different ways. Some require the winner to appear at a press conference.
The Massachusetts’ lottery maintains a database with the names of those who win more than $600 that can be made available to the public.
Arizona and other states allow winners not to appear in public, but their names can be obtained through public records laws. The Arizona winner, Matthew Good, was not identified at the press conference, and has not given interviews or appeared in public.
When reporters learned his name through records requests, TV crews and reporters flocked to Good’s neighborhood to get reaction from the winner of a lottery that captivated the nation.
Jeff Hatch-Miller of the Arizona Lottery said he understands winners’ desire for privacy, but he contends they are essentially entering into a contract with the government that is public. Others contend that appearing at a press conference helps defuse media interest because the winner is available to answer questions that satisfy reporters’ interest.
In Michigan, Republican state Senator Tory Rocca pushed a bill that allows winners to remain anonymous. It didn’t pass, but in arguing for it, he cited cases where lottery winners were shot and killed because of their new wealth.
A Florida woman was convicted last month of first-degree murder after she befriended a man who won a $30 million jackpot in 2006.
An effort in New Jersey by Democratic Senator Jim Whelan called for a one-year delay in releasing winners’ names. It also didn’t make it out of the Legislature last year.
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 of the Multi-State Lottery Association, which oversees the games.
The most famous modern lottery fraud happened in 1980 when Pennsylvania Lottery district manager Edward Plevel and TV announcer Nick Perry were convicted of fixing the result of a daily drawing.
Authorities found that some of the balls used in the game were injected with paint to make them too heavy to float up the winning slots.