Thinking of Going Off the Grid After Winning the Lottery? Not So Fast
Everyone dreams of it: having a small piece of paper with the right numbers printed on it and winning the life-changing $200 million, $700 million or $1 billion jackpot. But what happens after you win?
Many winners decide to remain anonymous — or at least try to — but that can be difficult when many states demand that the winners of large jackpots show their faces at news conferences.
At his own news conference in Madison, Wis., Manuel Franco, 24, who in a Powerball drawing last month won $768 million, the third-largest jackpot in United States lottery history, seemed to be trying not to divulge too much information about himself, perhaps to keep random family members from coming out of the woodwork. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, he declined to say where he grew up, where he lived, what kind of car he drove or where he used to work. (He quit two days after winning.)
Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota and Ohio allow lottery winners to conceal their identities if the winnings exceed a certain dollar amount, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Other states, like New York, make it easy for winners to collect their prizes under the cover of an L.L.C. or an entity. But states like Wisconsin want winners to come forward to claim their prizes, although Wisconsin does not require them to appear at a news conference as Mr. Franco did.
After Mr. Franco’s $768 million win, “it seems a little ridiculous that there isn’t privacy when it comes to that,” Gary Tauchen, a Wisconsin state representative, said. “Certainly you have a lot of fourth and fifth cousins and it is just a situation when you’re under high stress.”
While Mr. Franco was answering questions about his lottery winnings as concisely as possible, Mr. Tauchen was introducing a bill seeking to ensure the privacy of lottery winners in Wisconsin.
“I know that it is one of those life-changing experiences when you need some time to adjust,” Mr. Tauchen said. “You don’t need the stress of other people putting pressure on you.”
And for jackpot winners like Mr. Franco, the pressure comes nearly immediately.
“For the next two weeks, people are going to be outside of his house,” Jason M. Kurland, a lawyer who has represented several winners of large lottery jackpots, said on Wednesday.
“I get those letters every week,” Mr. Kurland said, referring to the mail he receives intended for his clients. “They range from congratulatory letters to individuals having a tough time asking for handouts, to organizations looking for donations, to business men and women asking for investors.”
Mr. Kurland, who calls himself the Lottery Lawyer and represented the person in South Carolina who won the $1.54 billion Mega Millions jackpot last year, advises his clients to delete all their social media accounts before they claim their winnings. He also tells them to try to remove their address from public view as much as they can and to get new phone numbers. If there are children involved, he will hire security for the first couple of days.
Mr. Kurland tries to help his clients retain some privacy after they win, but if privacy is hard to achieve in 2019, anonymity is nearly impossible.
“It is very hard to participate in civil life and be anonymous,” Albert Gidari, the privacy director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, said on Wednesday. “You can’t buy a car in cash and avoid disclosing who you are because now car dealers are financial institutions,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that it was nearly impossible to transfer money in and out of the United States without disclosing who you are to the government.
“He can get a lot of lawyers and accountants and figure out how to move and hide a lot of that money at great risk to himself for not complying with government reporting,” Mr. Gidari said. “You can’t get very far, but you can get far enough to get some degree of obscurity, even if you can’t get anonymity.”
Last year the winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot in New Hampshire took the state to court to retain her anonymity while claiming her prize. The woman’s lawyers argued that she would be accosted with requests for money, and the state argued that lottery winners must be disclosed to make sure that winners are not related to lottery employees and that winnings are distributed fairly. The court decided disclosing the winner’s name would be an invasion of privacy and allowed the woman to anonymously claim her winnings.
“You want to be able to enjoy this crazy amount of money you luckily won, but at the same time you want to keep your privacy, so it’s a balance,” Mr. Kurland said.
But going off the grid, setting up shop on the beach and enjoying the fruits of your ticket are not necessarily possible without informing the government.
“If you leave the country, it’s worse,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that leaving the country and failing to report assets in the United States and abroad could lead to losing those assets.Some states allow the winners of large jackpots to remain anonymous, but is it ever possible to retain your privacy after a life-changing windfall?
Can Lottery Winners Remain Anonymous?
Yes, but the list of states that allow it isn’t very long.
In this article, we’ll show you which US states let lottery winners stay anonymous. We’ll also talk about why most states don’t allow it, and what measures you can take to protect your privacy in case you do win.
What States Allow Anonymous Lottery Winners?
Apparently, just a handful. Only 9 US states allow lottery winners to protect their privacy and stay anonymous. Those are Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, and Texas.
Some states have different rules. For some lotteries, only winners of prizes over a certain threshold are allowed to remain anonymous. Check out the table below for more details.
States that allow lottery winners to remain anonymous
|State||Who can stay anonymous?|
|Arizona||Winners of prizes $100,000 and above|
|Georgia||Winners of prizes $250,000 and above|
|North Dakota||All winners|
|South Carolina||All winners|
|Texas||Winners of prizes $1 million and above|
Take note that in Arizona, lottery winners of prizes $600 and above also have the option to remain anonymous – albeit temporarily. Their names and identities are kept private for 90 days after the prize is awarded, and only made public knowledge after that time period is up.
States that do NOT allow lottery winners to remain anonymous
All other states not included in the previous list either do not have a state lottery, or require winners’ identities to be released to the public. This includes their name and usually, their photo.
However, there have been some exceptions in the past. Take a look at some special cases where a lottery winner was granted an exception and got to collect their prize while keeping their name secret:
- In New Hampshire, a woman filed a lawsuit against the state’s lottery commission in order to keep her identity off public record. She was the $560 million jackpot winner from the January 6, 2018 Powerball drawing. After a short trial, she was allowed by the ruling judge to remain anonymous and was only required to disclose the name of her hometown, Merrimack. The judge ruled in her favor citing that disclosing her name would jeopardize her safety, and that the Powerball numbers were drawn in Florida anyway.
- In Oregon, a man from Iraq who purchased his lottery ticket from a third-party website won $6.4 million from the August 24, 2015 Megabucks drawing. Months later, he was able to travel to the lottery headquarters in Salem where he collected his earnings. After speaking with the lottery director, he was also given the opportunity to stay anonymous to protect his safety when he returned home.
Why Can’t Lottery Winners Remain Anonymous?
The reason is quite simple. Announcing winners’ identities gives players the assurance that the game isn’t fixed and that real, everyday people have a shot at winning. It’s a layer of transparency that is integral to the success of the game. With confidence in the lottery, more people are inclined to play, which in turn produces more excitement about the game, bigger jackpots to be won, and more significant contributions to society – the goal of all US lotteries.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, when asked to explain why he voted against passing a lottery anonymity bill in his state, said it best:
“This bill could undermine the transparency that provides taxpayers confidence in the integrity of the lottery and its games. Moreover, the bill could have the unintended consequence of reducing lottery sales by hampering marketing efforts and the public excitement generated when lottery winners are announced.”
What Can Lottery Winners Do to Protect Their Privacy?
There are some ways that let players protect their identities when playing the lottery. Here are some of them:
- Claim your winnings through a trust or other legal entity. This is a common practice in states that do allow it, which includes Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. The idea is to first set up a trust and then request the lottery to award the winnings to said trust. Ask for help from a lottery lawyer on how to do this, if whether or not it’s plausible in your state, and if there are other ways you can protect yourself and your money.
- Wait for the hype to die down a bit. In most states, winners have 6 months to a full year to claim their prize. Be warned, however. This strategy isn’t always effective as sometimes, the closer to the deadline you wait, the more buzz around the uncollected prize money there is.
- Participate in group play or syndicates. Playing with others can also be a way to minimize your risk and exposure. Your name is less likely to make headlines and you’ll be increasing your chances of winning as a bonus. The drawback, of course, is that you’ll end up winning less.
- You can also enlist the service of a third-party lottery website when playing. These sites aren’t in the limelight as often as official lotteries are, and some of these services will allow you to stay anonymous completely. You can check out our list of recommended lottery sites for more specifics.