Lottery Winners Can Now Remain Anonymous in West Virginia, But There’s A Catch

Friday March 8th 2019

West Virginia has become the latest state to allow big lottery winners to remain anonymous. Anyone who wins a prize of over $1 million can now opt to keep their identity private, but the new law means they would receive a smaller payout.

What’s Changed in West Virginia?

Like the majority of state lotteries, West Virginia had previously ruled that big wins were a matter of public record. Your name, likeness and city of residence would be disclosed and used for promotional purposes and there was no option to remain anonymous.

However, West Virginia House Bill 2982, which took effect on 1st January 2019, stipulates that it is now possible for big winners to stay private. Even if there is a request under the Freedom of Information Act, your name, personal contact information and likeness will not be revealed.

You can only submit a request to remain anonymous if your prize is worth more than $1 million, though. If you win a smaller amount, the West Virginia Lottery may still use your name and photograph if it wishes.

Five Percent Goes To The State Lottery Fund

There are certain steps to follow if you choose to remain anonymous. According to the recently-passed House Bill, you must ‘contact the State Lottery Director in writing or appear at the state lottery headquarters in person’ declaring your desire to stay private. You must also provide contact details to the lottery at this time, and then an appointment will be scheduled to make arrangements to protect your anonymity.

The West Virginia Lottery also advises you to retain the services of a lawyer and an accountant and not tell anyone else about your win, as the lottery is not responsibility for information leaking out to the media via other people or social media.

If you wish to stay anonymous, you must also agree ‘to remit five percent of your winnings to the State Lottery Fund’. The West Virginia Lottery has donated more than $3.3 billion to schools and education since 1986, along with more than $1.25 billion to senior citizens programs and $1.1 billion to tourism and state parks. By taking in five percent of winnings from big winners who want to stay private, it would allow the lottery to raise even more money for good causes.

Will Other States Follow Suit?

The issue of claiming prizes anonymously has become a major talking point in recent years. South Carolina is one state where winners can stay public and the winner of the record $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot recently took advantage of that option to claim their prize without having their name revealed.

You can also stay anonymous when you claim prizes in Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas and Wyoming. A woman from New Hampshire was allowed to stay anonymous when she won a $559 million Powerball prize last year, despite the state’s ‘Right To Know’ law.

A number of states let winners claim prizes through legal trusts or limited liability companies, which effectively maintains the lucky player’s anonymity as the lottery only has to announce the name of the trust or LLC.

West Virginia winners have not been able to make this choice in the past, leading to some high-profile stories, such as that of Jack Whittaker. A successful company owner even before his win, Whittaker landed $314 million on Powerball in 2002 and went on set up a charitable foundation to help low-income families in the state. However, he also had $545,000 stolen from his car in 2003 and another $200,000 stolen in 2004. Among several other sad incidents, a fire destroyed his house in December 2016.

Winners in the Mountain State can now enjoy lottery games in the knowledge that they can stay private if they win over $1 million. It will be fascinating to see if other states follow suit, and if so whether they will impose similar conditions such as the five percent remittance.

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