New Law Allows Minnesota Lottery Winners to Stay Anonymous

Sunday May 9th 2021

Winners of Minnesota Lottery prizes over $10,000 will be able to remain anonymous under a new law signed by Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday. The law takes effect on September 1, 2021.

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The law applies to winners of multistate lotteries such as Powerball and Mega Millions as well as in-state games. Players who win big on second chance drawings will also be able to keep their identity private.

Lawmakers said lottery winners will be shielded from potential negative consequences of their names becoming public, pointing out that in other states big winners have been the victims of crime.

The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, Democrat of Eden Prairie, and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, Republican of Big Lake, and passed both the Minnesota House and Senate unanimously in April.

Big winners' names will be private by default, although they can still give permission for the Lottery to reveal their name if they wish. The bill, HF832/SF151*, states that "The name of the winner of a lottery prize ... may be made public if the winner provides written consent after the director has informed the winner of the director's intended use of the winner's name."

Previously, state law required that the Minnesota Lottery publish information including a winner's name, city of residence, prize value and where their ticket was purchased. Their home address and phone number were not made public, and that will remain the case under the new law.

"With technology the way it is, it’s certainly much easier to find a lot of information about anyone, and oftentimes more information than they may want shared," said Kotyza-Witthuhn, who sponsored the bill in the House.

Kotyza-Witthuhn said she had received questions about winner anonymity from constituents following a large jackpot in the state, which led her to research the issue further.

"Lottery winners have been robbed; some of them have been killed," she said. "There are a lot of harms that can come to people if your information is public like that.

"In today’s day and age if a bad actor were to seek out a lottery winner in order to do them harm, it’s even easier to locate them and their contact information online."

Before the bill's passage, Lottery offials told the state Legislature that although the Lottery uses winners' data for promotion, it had already made changes to give winners more privacy. These steps include only using a winner's first name and not publishing their photo.

"Winners are not required to have their photo taken, share their stories or participate in news conferences if they choose not to," said Adam Prock, executive director of the Minnesota Lottery. "The lottery works closely with all winners on a case-by-case basis to ensure their needs are met, including winners who choose to maintain a very low profile."

Proponents of releasing some details argue that the data shows that players win statewide and demonstrates transparency that a large proportion of lottery funds are paid back as prizes.

"The balance between lottery integrity and player security is something that we consider every day,” Prock said. “Both are vital to our mission as a state agency."

MN Lottery revenue is used for the state's General Fund, with approximately 24 cents of every $1 spent on lottery tickets supporting state schools, health, public safety and local government. Any remaining money is allocated to natural resources initiatives.

Minnesota Joins Growing Number of States with Anonymity

Increasing concerns about privacy have led to more and more states giving winners the right to stay anonymous. Prior to Minnesota, Montana was the latest state to grant winners' privacy with a law passed on  March 31, 2021.

The issue of remaining anonymous gained national prominence when the winner of the $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot in South Carolina in 2018 chose to keep her name out of the headlines. A statement via her lawyer said she wanted to "live a life of relative normalcy, free of fear."

In some states, anonymity comes with no strings attached, while in other areas, there are conditions, such as a threshhold on the amount that has to be won before the right to privacy kicks in. In West Virginia, winners even have to forfeit five percent of their prize if they want to keep their identity secret!

However, even if a state doesn't allow anonymity, a winner may be able to form a company to collect the prize on their behalf, effectively shielding them from the spotlight. That's exactly what a group of New York co-workers who hit a $437 million Mega Millions prize in 2019 did to retain their privacy.

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