The Arizona lottery headquarters is shown Friday, April 12, 2019 in Tempe, Ariz. A growing number of states are moving to allow winners of big lottery jackpots to stay anonymous. It comes as privacy concerns are increasingly trumping lottery groups' wishes to publicize winners to boost sales and show that the games are fair. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Growing number of states move to shield lottery winners

April 12, 2019 - 9:11 pm

PHOENIX (AP) — A growing number of states are moving to allow the winners of big lottery jackpots to stay anonymous as privacy concerns are increasingly trumping lottery groups' wishes to publicize winners to boost sales and show that the games are fair.

Arizona could be the next state to join at least nine others with laws that let winners keep their names secret under a proposal headed to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Four years ago, just five states allowed anonymous winners, and a handful of others allowed trusts to claim prizes.

At least eight state legislatures considered measures shielding winners' names this year. Virginia's governor signed legislation allowing winners of $10 million or more to remain anonymous. Proposals in Arkansas and Connecticut failed, while efforts in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon are still being considered.

New Mexico's governor last week axed a similar proposal, with a spokesman saying Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham decided to prioritize transparency.

"To be sure, the governor is clear about the concerns raised by proponents, i.e., that certain bad actors could take advantage of lottery winners if their names are made public," spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said in a statement. But "New Mexicans should have every confidence in the games run by the lottery."

Arizona's governor hasn't weighed in on the proposal before him.

The Arizona Lottery took no official position, but spokesman John Gilliland said "it is important that we have that transparency, because the lottery is nothing without integrity."

"And the only way the public has an absolute guarantee of integrity as far as real people winning these prizes is to be able to know who wins these prizes," he said this week.

Republican state Rep. Nancy Barto introduced the measure, saying she wanted to protect winners from harassment. State Rep. John Kavanagh pushed for current law that shields winners' names for 90 days but said this week that it doesn't go far enough.

"After 90 days, the person is then subjected to all sorts of people hitting them up for loans, investment advisers trying to make them a client and the potential to be victimized by a burglar or, if it's a massive amount, having their kid kidnapped," the Republican said.

Balancing those concerns against the Lottery's interests in transparency isn't a close call, he said.

That's in line with a New Hampshire judge's decision last year to allow the winner of a nearly $560 million Powerball jackpot to stay anonymous. The woman signed the ticket before she realized that state law would let her create a trust to shield her identity. The judge noted that she could be harassed or solicited for money.

Trusts are allowed in at least two other states besides New Hampshire, while a policy from South Carolina's lottery board allows anonymity. The winner of a $1.5 billion ticket bought at a South Carolina convenience store last year remains unknown under that policy.

Lottery fraud is a concern. In 2017, a programmer for the Multi-State Lottery Association got up to 25 years in prison for rigging a computer program to enable him to pick winning numbers in games in Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma between 2005 and 2011.

The executive director of the Iowa-based lottery association, which runs the Powerball game in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said he understands why some states are moving toward winner secrecy.

"However, the disclosure of winner names is one way lotteries are working to keep the process transparent," association Executive Director J. Bret Toyne said. "It shows the public that everyday people are randomly winning the prizes."

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Associated Press reporter Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed.