Should lottery winners be revealed?

Published Feb 20, 2018 at 4:00pm

Winning the lottery is supposed to be a dream come true, but a New Hampshire woman is learning it can be a nightmare.

Last month Jane Doe -- not her real name -- won a $560 million Powerball jackpot. But the prize is in limbo because, as her pseudonym suggests, she wants to remain anonymous. Her dilemma is New Hampshire law, like statutes found in most of the country, including New York State, requires her to be publicly identified in order to claim her winnings.

Doe is now in a quandary, and a court battle, to keep her identity secret. It will be tough. She signed the winning ticket, as required by law, before realizing she could have established a trust and had an executor claim the prize for her. State officials maintain she must come forward because having someone else sign the ticket at this point would void it.

Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina allow winners to remain anonymous. A growing number of other states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, will award prizes to a trust and allow a trustee — usually an attorney — to collect without disclosing the name of the ticket holder.

States including Illinois and Oregon have made exceptions to their policy of disclosure when winners demonstrate a high risk of harm.

Regarding disclosure of winners in Florida, Connie Barnes, spokeswoman for the Florida Lottery, told the Panama City News Herald in an email, “Florida Legislature made this a requirement to help ensure the transparency of our games and the claims process.” That makes sense. No one ever wants to believe the games could be rigged, or that the winners would not get their due proceeds.

Although studies show most winners continue to work, many of them end up living lives most of us imagine we would. But others end up utterly ruined. For example, recall the sad case of Abraham Shakespeare. In 2006, Shakespeare, an ex-con with a spotty employment record and $6,000 behind in his child support payments, bought two quick-pick Florida Lottery tickets at a Frostproof convenience store. He won $30 million and took a cash payout of $17 million -- and began spending like, as The Ledger once called him, “the Santa Claus of Lakeland.”

In 2008, Dorice “DeeDee” Moore befriended him by ostensibly telling him she wanted to write a book about his life. She then helped him move his money around, including into her own accounts. In April 2009, Shakespeare went missing, and his body was recovered nine months later under a concrete slab at a Plant City home owned by Moore. He had been shot to death.

Obviously this issue is a complicated one that deserves more scrutiny in the states whether or not they are considering changes.