A Powerball winner is suing the New Hampshire Lottery Commission in a bid to maintain her privacy and anonymity. Filing the lawsuit under the name Jane Doe on January 29th, the woman is concerned by a NHLC policy that has its roots in the state’s Right-To-Know law. Effectively, the law means that her name and location are public interest and can be revealed.
Initially, Jane Doe’s claim to the reward was in question. The NHLC stated that it was bound by state law to reveal her true name after she signed the back of her lottery ticket. The lawsuit to prevent her name from being revealed was against both the rules of the lottery and in contradiction to state law. However, she would eventually be allowed to claim her reward through a trust she set up after the fact.
Why a Powerball winner would be willing to sue for their privacy
In Jane Doe’s lawsuit, it states that other Powerball winners have been “victims of violence, threats, harassment, scams and constant unwanted solicitation.”
Jane Doe’s own fears have turned tragically real for other lottery players. In January 2016, a Georgia man was murdered in his own home less than two months after he won a Fantasy 5 drawing. And throughout the history of lotteries around the US, dozens of winners have been preyed upon, made critical errors with their investments, or killed by people they believed they could trust. So, it is little wonder why the newest big Powerball winner is seeking to retain her privacy.
Even the store where she purchased her winning ticket is affected by the interest surrounding her identity. The owner of Reeds Ferry Market, where the ticket was sold, has stated that he has been on the receiving-end of some positive boosts to his business. He receives $75,000 just for having been party to the winning Powerball ticket sale. The market has seen a definite increase in the number of customers passing through. Banners in the store advertise the sale of the winning Powerball ticket to further drive business.
Hints to the darker side of fame have already begun to surface. The market has received many phone calls from people looking into the identity of the Powerball winner. Some callers have outright asked for money. Given the fates of some lottery winners, these inquiries are likely further justification for Jane Doe to go to court for her anonymity.
Some states allow lottery winners to claim their rewards anonymously.
In Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, and Ohio, winners of a lottery can remain anonymous so long as the ticket was purchased within state borders. However, these rules appear to be exceptions to the norm.
The case for lottery anonymity varies greatly, sometimes on a winner-by-winner basis. Canada’s Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation reserves the rights to publish the name, city, and a photograph of contest winners. One justification is that it proves people do win despite the long odds against it.
Similar explanations are used by lottery commissions throughout the United States. But another reason for transparency is criminal activity. Eddie Raymond Tipton, along with his brother, and a Texas businessman, were ultimately found guilty of rigging lotteries around the country. In some states, such as Iowa, there is interest in reversing the laws that deny anonymity. However, the Hot Lotto scandal is often referenced as a reason to keep the laws in place. Transparency not only shows that people can win, it may prevent or reveal fraud among lottery organizers and officials.
A ‘huge mistake’ that could have avoided
Jane Doe was directed by the state commission to sign the ticket, and include her address and phone number. Afterwards she considered advice from legal experts, and discovered what she’d actually committed to.
The NHLC claims it is bound by state law and the rules of the lottery to reveal Jane Doe. Additionally, by participating in the lottery, players are assumed to have accepted the terms and conditions of the contest. So, by having signed the ticket, legally Jane Doe’s identity can be revealed as part of the lottery’s own rules. However, had Jane Doe established her trust before signing the ticket, and had a designated trustee sign the ticket on her behalf, her anonymity could have been ensured.
Of course, this information was learned well after she’d already signed the ticket.
The letter of the law is clear. But Jane Doe’s lawsuit suggests that she would likely have established her trust in advance if she’d known to.
For now, her identity is secret while the case moves forward. However, the costs of her court battle are reducing the prize money by $14,000 every day. Jane Doe’s concerns are real given the fates of some lottery winners. But the state laws are also very clear, and the lottery does have legitimate interest in winners being made public.
It will be up to the court to decide who is in the right. Privacy is a major concern in an increasingly connected world. States may begin to consider laws and revisions to existing laws that put the privacy of contest winners above the rules of a contest.