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Bill Would Allow Some Arizona Lottery Winners To Be Anonymous

By Tom Maxedon
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2019 - 5:17pm
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - 10:14am
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Lauren Gilger/KJZZ
Nancy Barto

On a party-line vote Tuesday the Arizona House Commerce Committee approved a measure to allow anyone with at least $100,000 in lottery winnings to demand that their names be kept confidential. House Bill 2552 now goes to the full House.

The move comes four years after lawmakers agreed to keep the names of winners secret for 90 days. The logic behind that was it would give people sufficient time to figure out how to deal with their newfound fortune and set up whatever trusts or protections.

But Rep. Nancy Barto said that's not enough, citing the concerns of a constituent whom she did not name. "They will not even engage in the Lottery because of fear that, if they do win, their life will change and they won't be able to withstand the very likely threats and bodily harm, all kind of nuisance calls and harassment,'' she said. And Barto said these problems do not just exist for those who win the multi-million dollar prizes.

"Even the lesser winner amounts can really cause so much havoc in a person's life,'' she said. "We don't need to subject them to that.''

But attorney Chase Bales, representing the Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV, said there's no basis for Barto's claim that people don't play the Lottery out of fear of winning. He said the reverse is true because public oversight of the process, including access to the names of winners, promotes public confidence in the Lottery. "By ensuring we know who's winning the Lottery we know that the Lottery and its winnings are not being doled out to people, friends, family of the Lottery,'' Bales said. "That, in turn, increases public participation in the Lottery, increases the number of people who are willing to play.''

Bales added that if winners are threatened they can go to court to seek legal protections.

But Rep. Bret Roberts, a Republican from Maricopa, said he's not sure that's a realistic solution. He said judges generally want evidence of actual threats versus simply being bothered by a relative or a sales person.

"I'm not sure that qualifies,'' he said.

Bales, however, said there are court procedures to keep people from unwanted harassment.

At least eight states have specific privacy statutes. But there are other states that have provisions that allow those who buy Lottery tickets to get them in the name of a trust.

Last year a judge in New Hampshire agreed to let the winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot keep her name out of the public eye even though she signed her own name to the ticket, as instructed by the state lottery website, rather than in the name of a trust.

In a ruling, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Charles Temple acknowledged that New Hampshire state law makes the winning tickets public documents. And he noted that state's lottery commission believes that such disclosure ensures transparency.

But Temple agreed to allow the state to release only the hometown of the winner, citing her "strong privacy interest.''

"The court has no doubts whatsoever that should Ms. Doe's identity be revealed, she will be subject to an alarming amount of harassment, solicitation and unwanted communications,'' the judge said. Temple said her privacy interest "outweighs the public interest in the disclosure of her name.''