The Lottery and Privacy – How to Remain Anonymous if You Win

Guy Holding Lottery Check, Silhouette of Guy Celebrating
Each year, over $100 billion are spent on lotteries in the United States. And that number keeps climbing. The popularity of multi-state lotteries such as Powerball and Mega Millions have driven tens of millions of people to buy tickets for chances to win upwards of $1 billion in some cases.

But there’s a danger in winning. Whether a person wins $10,000 or $2 billion, they become targets. It starts with long lost family members, then spreads to charities, and then scammers.

Lotteries thrive on publicity. A person winning several millions of dollars in a jackpot is great publicity for the state and the lottery itself.

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In many cases, state lotteries are required to publicly name all winners. So remaining anonymous may not be possible.

This is further complicated by each state’s version of the Freedom of Information Act. If you’re curious as to what gambling laws your state currently has in place for gambling, be sure to check out our legal page.

The Freedom of Information Act was originally a federal law that required federal agencies to disclose information to the public upon request. States followed suit in enacting similar laws that bound themselves to a similar standard.

Because the lottery commissions in each state is a government agency dealing with public funds, most states are required to disclose where the money went as part of the transparency of the distribution of public funds.

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Some states publish the winner’s name, city, county and the amount won. Other states may require the publication of a picture of video of the winner. Some may even require a televised press conference.

How much that the state is required to disclose varies. The lotteries in which the winner’s likeness is used may also require the winner to sign a waiver authorizing the state to use the images in any way they see fit to promote the lottery.

But there are some exceptions. Some states do allow winners to remain completely anonymous. This is rare, and they may even try to pressure the winner to disclose their information for the benefit of lottery publicity, but they’re under no obligation to do so.

Aside from the transparency in where the money is going, it also allows the state to show that the lottery isn’t rigged.

This was the case involving an employee of the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL). MUSL is the parent organization that controls Powerball and Mega Millions.

The Hot Lotto Fraud Scandal

Between 2015 and 2017, a former security director for MUSL was convicted in a scheme involving rigging lotteries in 5 states between 2005 and 2013. His name was Edward Tipton.

Person Checking Lottery Numbers on Ticket, Red X Mark

The states involved in the scam were:

  • Iowa
  • Oklahoma
  • Colorado
  • Wisconsin
  • Kansas

The first incident was in November 2005. Tipton’s brother Tommy won $568,990 jackpot in a Colorado Lottery drawing. The random number generator was designed by Edward Tipton. Tommy Tipton asked a friend to claim the winnings for a 10% cut.

The next incident was in December 2007. A Wisconsin Lottery prize of $783,257 was paid to a limited liability corporation controlled by a man named Robert Rhodes. Records show that the corporation wound up transferring the money to Tipton.

A 3rd incident occurred in November 2011. A Hot Lotto (the predecessor to Lotto America) jackpot of $1.2 million was paid to a man named Kyle Conn of Texas. Conn bought the ticket in Oklahoma. Oklahoma investigators were suspicious because Conn was not a frequent player, came from out of state, and specified the winning numbers manually instead of relying on a random pick. Tipton had rigged the random number generator that selected the winning numbers.

In December 2010 a drawing of Hot Lotto had a prize of $16.5 million.

Hot Lotto Ticket with NumbersOn November 9, 2011, Philip Johnston, a resident of Quebec City, Canada, phoned the Iowa Lottery to claim a ticket that had won the jackpot; stating he was too sick to claim the prize in person, he provided a 15-digit code that verified the ticket, but his prize claim was turned down when he was unable to answer questions that verified he was the owner of the winning ticket.

On December 6, Johnston phoned again, stating the ticket was actually owned by an anonymous individual, who was being represented by a trust. However, Iowa Lottery rules forbid anonymous prize claims, so the claim was turned down.

On December 29, 2011, just before the expiration of the deadline to claim the prize, a Des Moines law firm presented the winning ticket at the Iowa Lottery headquarters, signed on behalf of the trust and New York City-based attorney Crawford Shaw. However, the trust name was misspelled on the ticket and the prize claim was turned down.

On January 12, 2012, Shaw met with Iowa Lottery officials in person to try claiming the prize but was turned down yet again after he refused to identify the owners of the trust. Shaw withdrew his claims over the prize afterward, and the prize money was returned to Hot Lotto’s member lotteries in February 2011.

In an interview with Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation, Johnston explained that Robert Rhodes and Robert Sonfield of Sugar Land, Texas, had asked him to assist in anonymously claiming the prize.

In October 2014 investigators released surveillance footage from a QuikTrip convenience store in Des Moines, which they believed showed the purchaser of the ticket, later identified as Eddie Tipton.

As a MUSL employee, it was illegal for Tipton to participate in any lottery game.

On January 15, 2015, Tipton was arrested and charged with two counts of fraud for attempting to illegally participate in the lottery, and attempting to use fraudulent means to claim prizes.

Tipton was convicted twice for the various scandals. On September 9, 2015, he was sentenced to 10 years’ for a guilty verdict on 2 counts of fraud, He was subsequently tried for the previously undiscovered lottery rigging scams from 2005 and 2007. Tipton confessed to the crimes and was sentenced to an additional 25 years.

When asked about the case, Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich said the requirement that names be made public was “the layer of security [Tipton] couldn’t break”.

Forming a Trust

Some states allow “an entity” to claim a winning prize. Usually, these “entities” are trusts formed by the winner’s lawyer that shield the winner from their information being publicized. A trust is a legal tool that allows for the administration of assets of a beneficiary.

Most winners contact a lawyer before claiming the prize and the lawyer sets up the trust so that the winnings can be claimed in the name of the trust. The lawyer may also set up a bank account in the trust’s name so the lottery can deposit the funds directly without the winner’s anonymity being breached.

Sometimes this doesn’t go as planned as was the case in New Hampshire on January 6, 2018.Silhouette of Guy With Suitcase Walking

A woman, known only as Jane Doe, won the Powerball jackpot of $559.7 million. She immediately did as most lotteries advise and signed her ticket so no one else could claim the ticket if it was lost or stolen. The issue was that the winner wanted to remain anonymous. And because she signed the ticket, her name became part of the public record.

The woman and her lawyer filed suit and after a few months of legal wrangling a New Hampshire judge ruled that the state could release the town she lived in, but her name didn’t have to be released. She was then able to claim the jackpot in the name of the trust established by her lawyer.

What Do States Require?

Each state has different rules as to what needs to be disclosed when winning the lottery. Most of the time, the information can be found on the state lottery commission’s website. But sometimes it takes some digging to find out the information.

Pile of Lottery Tickets, United States Map with US Flag Inside
Because of all of the major jackpots that have occurred in the last year, I wondered what states would allow a winner to remain anonymous and what states that had to disclose the winner and to what degree they needed to disclose.

In some cases, the answer was right on the website. In others, I had to research 3rd party websites. In some rare cases, I had to write to the state lottery commission to find out the rules regarding anonymity.

As of 2019, 44 states, 2 territories, and the District of Columbia all have lotteries. One other state, Mississippi recently approved a lottery and expect it to be up and running before 2020.

Here are the rules regarding lottery anonymity for each state:

Alabama

– Does not have a lottery

Alaska

– Does not have a lottery

Arizona

Shape of Arizona State– The names of persons or legally formed entities that are paid lottery prizes or winnings of $600 or more are held confidential for 90 days from the date the prize is awarded and are not a public record during that period. Information regarding the prize winner’s city and county of residence is not confidential. The Arizona Lottery will not accept a blind trust the law requires the Lottery to ensure that any Lottery winner does not owe the state a debt, which must be set off against the Lottery prize.

Arkansas

– Winner information is subject to disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Winners must come forward and identify themselves within 90 days. Arkansas has a debt setoff requirement to determine if the winner owes taxes to the state or back child support.

A winner who receives a prize or prize payment from the Arkansas State Lottery (ASL) grants the ASL the right to use, publish and reproduce the winner’s name, physical likeness, photograph, portraits, and statements made by the winner, and use audio sound clips and video or film footage of the winner for the purpose of press releases, advertising, and promoting the ASL.

California

– California state law requires that the California State Lottery release the winner’s name and the name and location of the retailer where the winning ticket was purchased.

Colorado

– In Colorado, the name, city of residence and prize amount is public record and may be made available for public information.

Connecticut

– The Lottery will publish and upon request, make available a winner’s name, city or town of residence, date, and amount of win and the name and location of the retailer that sold the winning ticket.

Winners can claim winnings using other legal entities (i.e., trusts, business partnerships, etc.). In those instances, the Lottery will promote the win using that legal entity’s name.

Delaware

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Florida

– Florida Lottery winners can’t remain anonymous. The Florida Lottery can disclose the winner’s name, the city of residence, game won, date won, and amount won to any third party who requests the information.

Georgia

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Hawaii

– Does not have a lottery.

Idaho

– The Idaho Lottery may use the name, city, and photograph of winners in any Idaho Lottery promotional campaign. However, exceptions can be requested and the Idaho Lottery Director will make a final determination.

Indiana

– The Hoosier Lottery may require that winners participate in press conferences and other public relations activities.

Iowa

– The Iowa Lottery can use a winner’s name and likeness for any publicity purposes that it deems desirable.

Kansas

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Kentucky

– Kentucky Lottery can use the winner’s name, image, and voice for any reasonable publicity it considers desirable.

Louisiana

State of Louisiana – Under the Lottery’s statue, all prize payment records are open records, and the public has a right to request the information. Louisiana law also allows the Lottery to use winners’ names and their city of residence for publicity purposes such as news releases. However, the Lottery’s regular practice is not to use winner information in paid advertising or product promotion without the winner’s willingness to participate.

Maine

– The Maine Lottery is required to release the name, town, date won, and amount won on lottery winnings. Their name may be used in any future marketing plans the Maine Lottery might have. If the winner wants to remain completely anonymous, they are able to form a trust or corporation.

Maryland

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Massachusetts

– The Massachusetts State Lottery regulations state that a claimant’s name, city or town, image, amount of prize, claim date and game are public record. A winner’s photographs may be used to publicize winnings.

Michigan

– Michigan law gives winners of prizes greater than $10,000 the right to remain anonymous. However, Mega Millions and Powerball winners are exempt from this act. The names and cities of residence for all Michigan Lottery Mega Millions and Powerball winners (including the jackpot) are considered public record.

Minnesota

– The winner’s name, city, and prize amount is public information and may be released.

Mississippi

– A law allowing lottery sales was passed in August 2018. As of April 2019, the lottery commission has yet to be set up. It is unknown what information, if any, will be required of winners.

Missouri

– Missouri state law requires the lottery to release a winner’s name, city of residence, and the amount of the prize.

Montana

– A winner’s name, city of residence and prize amount is public record and may be made available upon request.

Nebraska

– The winner’s name, hometown, and prize amount are public information.

Nevada

– Does not have a lottery.

New Hampshire

– New Hampshire state law requires the winner’s name, town, and amount won be available for public information. Winners can claim winnings using other legal entities in order for the winner to remain anonymous.

New Jersey

– A winner’s name, town, and county can be made available either through a press release or through a formal request for public records by any citizen or member of the media.

New Mexico

State of New Mexico– The winner’s name, the city in which the winner lives, and the prize amount won is subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. The New Mexico Lottery Authority and its retailers and advertising agencies, as well as the news media and their editors, may use the winner’s name and photograph for reproduction in any medium they see fit for the purposes of advertising, display, exhibition, or editorial use.

North Carolina

– The North Carolina Education Lottery considers a winner’s name, city, and the prize amount a matter of public record, unless the winner produces a valid protective order or Address Confidentiality Program authorization card.

North Dakota

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Ohio

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Oklahoma

– All information including the winner’s name, city, and amount won are subject to disclosure under the Oklahoma Open Records Act and public disclosure laws.

Oregon

– The winner’s name, city, state, zip code, game in which prize was won, date of game drawing, date prize was claimed, amount of prize won, and the retail location in which winning ticket was sold are public information and are subject to disclosure. Oregon law prohibits claiming a prize through a limited liability company or a trust.

Pennsylvania

– The Pennsylvania Lottery publishes the name of winners, the city of residence, the name of game won, and the date of win on its website in the Winners’ Circle.

Puerto Rico

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Rhode Island

– The Rhode Island Lottery will do everything possible to keep a winner’s information private if requested, however, this information falls under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, and a winner’s name and city or town of residency must be released upon request.

South Carolina

– Winner can remain anonymous.

South Dakota

– Lottery Commission rules allow the lottery to publish the name, city, state of residence, and prize amounts of instant scratch and lotto game winners as a matter of public record.

Tennessee

– State law requires the lottery to disclose the name, home town, and home state of winners if a request is received for such information.

Texas

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Utah

– Does not have a lottery.

US Virgin Islands

– Winner can remain anonymous but are encouraged to do some degree of publicity.

Vermont

– The name, town, and prize amount won is public information. If the prize is claimed by a trust, the name of the trust becomes public information.

Virginia

State of Virginia– The winner’s name, home town, and prize are public record and are released to the media for prizes $100,000 and up. Winners must agree to allow the use of their photo for publicity and news releases. Game rules may require the winner to appear at a press conference. Virginia state law prevents winners from claiming a prize with a limited liability company or a trust.

Washington

– The winner’s name, city, and prize amount are subject to the public disclosure laws.

Washington DC

– Lottery winner information is public record. Winners claiming a prize of $2,500 or more are required to have their photograph taken in order to complete the claim process and receive their lottery prize.

West Virginia

– A winner’s name and photograph may be used for any reasonable publicity purpose.

Wisconsin

– Upon request, the lottery must release the name and city of the winner.

Wyoming

– Winner can remain anonymous.

Conclusion

So, as you can see, each state has its own rules and laws regarding disclosure. There was certainly a time when disclosing a name and city where the winner lived benefitted the public good. It was a way to show citizens that a legitimate winner had come forward and that the lottery wasn’t some sort of scam.

In 2019, a case can be made that public disclosure of winners’ names isn’t necessary anymore. In fact, it may be dangerous. Anyone can go on the internet and find out a slew of information on a winner and use that to scam a winner or worse.

I agree that the winner’s name should be disclosed to the state for tax purposes and to settle any child support liens or court orders. But the information at that point should be sealed at the request of the winner.

I’m a big fan of claiming winning via a revocable trust. This way the winner’s name isn’t disclosed. This is the safest method. It avoids scammers, the bombardment of organizations requesting donations, and of course, long-lost family members that crawl out of the woodwork asking for a handout. It allows the winner to enjoy their privacy as well as the fruits of their winnings.