Lottery winners in New Jersey will have the option to remain anonymous under a new law Gov. Phil Murphy signed on Tuesday. This bill passed the state Senate and Assembly without a single dissenting vote earlier this month.
The law directs the state lottery commission to set regulations permitting lottery players to keep their identities secret.
The original resolution, which was signed into law in November of 1969, required winners of large amounts of money to reveal their identities to the public. This has come in the form of press conferences, OPRA requests, and press releases.
“To amend, repeal, or supplement any such rules and regulations from time to time as it deems necessary or desirable, and to establish by regulation that holders of winning tickets or shares may choose to remain anonymous indefinitely and that the identity of a holder choosing such option shall not be included under materials available to public inspection,” the amendment says.
New Jersey isn’t the first state to allow winners to opt for anonymity. They join a growing list of states who also permit privacy, which are Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas. Arizona and Virginia also passed their own privacy bills last year.
Some states allow players to claim prizes anonymously through trusts. While many states have laws that dictate a winner’s name, hometown, and prize amount become public information.
Avoiding the “Lottery Curse”
The New Jersey law’s sponsors say the bill is aimed at addressing what they called the “lottery curse.”
Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement that the curse amounts to harassment and threats that can happen after winners’ identities become public.
“The winners should have the option of remaining anonymous if they want to stay out of the limelight and away from unwanted attention,” Sweeney said.
Jason Kurland, a New York-based “lottery lawyer,” said that the best advice for new lottery winners is to keep your mouth shut and call a lawyer:
“Don’t advertise it,” Kurland said. “Don’t tell too many people you won. If your name’s out there, everyone comes out. Not only family you haven’t spoken to in a long time, but charities. Mostly good. But some are bogus.”
In 2018, the winner of what was then the eighth biggest jackpot in US history — a $560 million Powerball prize — successfully sued the New Hampshire Lottery for the right to remain anonymous.
The judge in the case said he was in no doubt that the New Hampshire woman, known only as Jane Doe, would be subject to “an alarming amount of harassment, solicitation, and other unwanted communications” should her name be revealed. Her right to privacy “outweighed the public’s interest in the disclosure of her name,” he ruled.
Opponents argue requiring winners’ names to be public promotes transparency. The thinking is that this transparency promotes the perception of the integrity of the lottery, but it’s also good for business. The publicity generated by big a jackpot winner usually results in a spike in lottery sales for the subsequent draw.
Not Completely Anonymous
While the identity of New Jersey winners will be protected from the press and the public, they won’t be flying completely under the radar. State agencies will be able to share their details internally so they can remove things like outstanding child support payments, public assistance overpayments, and defaulted student loan payments before handing over the earnings.