Missouri Considers Letting Lottery Winners Stay Anonymous

Thursday February 27th 2020

Will Missouri go from "Show Me" to "Shhh"? A new proposal would give lottery winners the option to remain anonymous, amid concerns over safety and losing revenue to Kansas, which offers anonymity.

“This is a safety issue and a way to give winners protection from being easily targeted," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jay Mosley, Democrat of Florissant.

"Many winners have talked about how winning a lottery prize brought them unwanted attention. This bill is simply a way to allow people to feel safe when they win.”

Mosley's bill, HB 1563, has had a hearing by the House General Laws Committee, which will vote on the legislation shortly.

Currently, the Missouri Lottery posts winners' names on its website. Mosley wants to change the law to give winners the choice to keep their name, address, and any other identifying information private. The bill would apply to any prize amount.

Mosley's legislation would still allow winners to have their names publicized if they wanted to. “I know there are people out there that want to disclose that information, but most people, from my knowledge, don’t,” Mosley said.

Mosley said he is also concerned that Missouri players are crossing the border to buy lottery tickets in neighboring Kansas, which allows winners to stay anonymous. Protecting winners' privacy could allow more Missouri residents to spend the money at home instead.

Mosley sponsored the same bill in last year's legislative session. The bipartisan proposal received 100 percent support in the General Laws Committee, but didn't make it to the House floor before the session ended.

Winners experienced unwanted attention

Steven and Suzanne Neuner of Lee's Summit know what it's like to win the jackpot. They won $1.2 million on the Missouri Lotto in September 2019 after Steven purchased a ticket near their home when the couple stopped for gas.

Suzanne described the win as "Shocking. You don't believe it. You never think you're going to win."

What did the couple do with the money? "We paid off our home, paid off my car, and Steve splurged and he bought a truck," Suzanne said.

But after Steven's name and picture were published on the lottery website, he received some unwanted contact. "Some people that were on the internet called my husband, odd people. They wanted us to invest with them," Suzanne recalled.

Mosley said that stories like these are why he sponsored the bill. "Not having to disclose your identity to the public, I think it means the world, and it'll be appreciated," he said. "People wouldn't easily be targeted, and I think people will be more at ease."

"We're probably losing a significant amount of money to Kansas because of that fact," he added.

At the Temp Stop gas station where Steven bought the ticket, other players supported the option to retain their privacy.

"I'd probably rather stay anonymous," said Barbara Croy. "I don't want people asking me for money."

"I would absolutely stay anonymous," said Randy Penland. "I think just to prevent hassle."

Growing support for anonymity

Missouri is one of an increasing number of states that are concerned with allowing winners to stay anonymous.

New Jersey is the latest state to let winners remain anonymous, after a new law was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in January 2020.

Sponsors of the bill said it was aimed at what they called the "lottery curse." "The winners should have the option of remaining anonymous if they want to stay out of the limelight and away from unwanted attention," said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Five years ago, just five states allowed anonymity, but with New Jersey's new law there are now 11 states that protect privacy in at least some instances.

Of those, nine states allow the choice of anonymity without any strings attached: Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming.

In 2019, eight states introduced bills to allow anonymity, and in Arizona, Virginia and West Virginia, the proposals were signed into law.

In the most high-profile example so far, the winner of the $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot in South Carolina in October 2018 opted to stay anonymous, with her lawyer claiming the prize on her behalf.

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