Big Virginia Lottery Winners Will Be Allowed To Stay Anonymous

Wednesday April 10th 2019

Virginia is to become the latest state to give lottery winners a choice of whether they want to go public or not. The House and Senate have passed a law that will come into effect from July 1st, allowing anyone who wins a prize greater than $10 million to remain anonymous if they wish.

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The current Freedom of Information Act compels the Virginia Lottery to release the name, hometown and prize amount of winners. However, critics of the law such as Powhatan delegate Lee Ware said that winners were a ‘magnet for attention’ and argued that they should have the right to stay private. The bill, SB 1060, had to clear several hurdles before it was finally signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The new law will not allow anonymity for everyone, as winners of prizes up to $10 million will still have to go public. However, anyone who wins a larger amount, such as a Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot, will now have the option to keep their identity hidden.

The Pros and Cons of Anonymity Laws

Virginia has had numerous big winners, such as the state’s first Powerball jackpot winner Dave Honeywell. The Fredericksburg resident, a computer scientist with the Department of Defense, won $217 million in February 2013 after buying a ticket from Richmond International Airport on Superbowl Sunday. Under the existing laws, he had no choice over his name and hometown being released when he came forward.

The new law will give players who choose to stay anonymous extra peace of mind, as many previous winners have been hassled for money, bombarded by media requests and even expressed concerns about their security.

The main argument against anonymity has always been that everyone should be able to see who wins a lottery. The transparency of knowing that games are won by real people shows that everything is fair and encourages others to take part, which in turn leads to increased ticket sales and more money being raised for state causes.

The $10 million figure in Virginia’s new law is understood to have been chosen because that is the highest prize on offer in any of the state’s scratchcards, so there will still be lots of winners who do go public and the transparency of the lottery will remain intact.

Anonymity in Other States

More and more states are introducing legislation regarding anonymity. Winners in Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming can all stay private, while West Virginia also enacted a law recently that allows winners of more than $1 million to remain anonymous if they relinquish five percent of their prize.

In certain other states, such as Louisiana and Pennsylvania, winners can claim their money through legal trusts or limited liability companies, effectively shielding their identities from the public.

It will be fascinating to see whether Virginia’s change in policy has a positive or negative impact on ticket sales for big games such as Powerball and Mega Millions, and whether the first winner of more than $10 million decides to take advantage of the anonymity law.

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