New York Rejects Bill to Allow Lottery Winners to Remain Anonymous

Monday December 10th 2018

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has vetoed a bill to allow lottery winners in the state to remain anonymous, despite a strong majority of the state Legislature voting in favor of it. The decision was made, Cuomo says, to preserve the integrity and transparency of the NY Lottery.

The Bill Had Strong Senate Support

Senate bill S219 stated that the name, address, and any other identifying information about lottery winners would not be disclosed to the public, and that they would not be required to perform any ‘public actions’, such as press conferences or other media obligations.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh, Orange County, and Republican Senator Kathleen Marchione. Speaking about her reasons for sponsoring the bill, Gunther said: “We've heard a lot of stories about people... when they win the lottery, and then all of a sudden the phone starts ringing and everybody is asking them for money. Once they're identified, the calls don't ever stop coming in.”

The state Senate passed the bill in June with an overwhelming majority of 61-1, with the lone dissenting voice coming from Republican Senator Joseph Griffo, who claimed that the New York public have the right to know who wins the lottery.

That position echoes Cuomo’s own objection to the bill, to which he stated: “The presentation and sharing of certain information provides comfort to the general public that there was an actual winner, and the state was not simply adding all the money to its own coffers.” He did continue to point out that under current law winners could still claim anonymously by forming a trust or limited liability company.

State law dictates that a winner’s name and place of residence will be released to the public, along with the prize amount and the location where the winning ticket was bought. They may also be required to fulfil certain media obligations when claiming their winnings.

Had the bill been enacted, New York would have joined nine other states in offering lottery winners the chance to remain anonymous. Currently, that option is only available in Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming. Powerball winners in Puerto Rico can also claim anonymously.

The Case For and Against Anonymity

In recent years there have been several high-profile cases of lottery winners being targeted because of their wealth. Craigory Burch Jr won over $400,000 on Georgia’s Fantasy 5 in November 2015 and just two months later he was shot dead in his home by armed robbers. Police have never directly associated his death with his lottery win, but his friends and family claim that he became a target after his identity was disclosed.

It is cases like this, proponents argue, that demonstrate why it is important for lottery winners to remain anonymous. At best, they can expect constant requests for money; at worst, their lives may be at risk.

On the other hand, lotteries are conducted with the public’s money and some, including Governor Cuomo, argue that the public has a right to know exactly where that money is going. They say that such transparency preserves the integrity of the lottery and shows that the funds aren’t being misappropriated.

Popular lotteries have been hit by fraud scandals before. In 2015, Eddie Tipton, a former employee of the Multi-State Lottery Association, was convicted of rigging a draw of the now-defunct Hot Lotto game. Tipton and his co-conspirators then tried to claim the $14 million jackpot anonymously, but their claim was rejected by the Iowa Lottery and an investigation was launched. It later turned out that Tipton had been rigging draws for a decade, and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The New York Lottery has also been subject to controversy in the past. In 1975, it came to light that a programming error caused hundreds of duplicate tickets to be printed. In some cases the winning numbers were awarded to tickets that weren’t even bought, which should have been impossible under the old raffle-style rules. The sale of lottery games was suspended by Governor Hugh Carey and all staff members at the Lottery Commission were dismissed, although all were eligible for rehire when the lottery relaunched a year later.

Then, in 1986, seven people, including four employees of the New York State Lottery, were arrested after they conspired to manipulate the outcome of lottery games to the tune of $40,000. The employees stole mail-in entries to a weekly lottery draw and entered them using the names of friends and family instead. There were said to have won four separate prizes in this way, netting them tens of thousands of dollars in ill-gained winnings.

Cases like these demonstrate why some transparency is necessary when it comes to lottery games. Regardless, Governor Cuomo has given a firm answer to the subject of anonymity, and despite overwhelming support from other quarters, it would appear that New York lottery winners will have to get used to being in the public eye for the foreseeable future.

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