Wisconsin Pushes to Let Lottery Winners Remain Anonymous

Friday July 5th 2019 Wisconsin Pushes to Let Lottery Winners Remain Anonymous

A bill that would allow lottery winners in Wisconsin to remain anonymous has been scheduled for a public hearing before the Assembly Committee on State Affairs on July 10th. The hearing comes over two months after Wisconsin resident Manuel Franco came forward to claim the entirety of a $768 million Powerball jackpot.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos introduced Bill 213 on April 24th, the same day that Franco collected the record-breaking Powerball jackpot. Vos voiced concerns that lottery winners going public could be disproportionately targeted by fraud, harassed and potentially harmed as a result of their fortune. He cited Franco’s press conference earlier that day, in which Franco admitted “paranoia” after the excitement of his lottery win had died down.

Manuel Franco of New Berlin, Milwaukee, was the only person to match all five numbers and the Powerball in the March 23rd Powerball draw, winning a jackpot of $768 million. He waited nearly a month to claim his prize, electing to receive the winnings as a lump sum instead of an annuity. After taxes, he went away with $326 million.

If passed, the bill would prohibit lottery organizations, retailers, administrators and the Department of Revenue from disclosing the name, address or social security number of any lottery prize winner in Wisconsin without their prior consent. Exceptions would be made for calculating tax withholding or payments owed to child support or the judicial system.

What Happens Next?

After the public hearing on July 10th, the Assembly Committee on State Affairs will hold an executive session to discuss the bill. The members of the committee will then vote on it; if it passes, it is referred to the House of Representatives for further readings and debates. If the bill receives a two-third majority approval in the House, it is referred to the Senate for further discussion.

Wisconsin is not the only state to consider a lottery anonymity bill in 2019. Virginia and West Virginia each passed laws in early 2019 protecting lottery winners from having their identities exposed – though with some conditions. 

In West Virginia, only winners of more than $1 million can protect their identity, and they must forfeit 5% of their winnings to the State Lottery Fund if they do so. In Virginia, lottery winners are only eligible to remain anonymous if they win more than $10 million. New Mexico recently killed a bill proposing to protect lottery winners’ identities, concluding that it was more important to keep the lottery transparent.

Thirteen jurisdictions currently allow lottery winners to remain anonymous, though players in certain other states can protect their identity by collecting their winnings through a trust, or LLC. 

The tide of opinion seems to be shifting towards the players, however, and events in Wisconsin are part of a wider trend in which the question of anonymity is generating serious discussion. It’s still a long way from the whole of the United States guaranteeing anonymity for lottery winners, but such a thing no longer seems so implausible.

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