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Can You Spare a Million?: Why It Pays to Stay Anonymous After Lottery Win

Man claims $425M lotto prize, shields face with check

Becoming a newly minted millionaire comes at a personal price for many lottery winners: They lose their anonymity.

That’s what California man B. Raymond Buxton sacrificed when he came forward Tuesday as the sole winner of the $425 million Powerball jackpot — following six weeks of staying in the shadows.

Buxton claimed his cash from the California Lottery without the fanfare of a news conference — even covering his face in a publicity picture with the standard oversized check.

Still, that will do little to stop friends, family and random acquaintances alike from trying to get a piece of his windfall, lottery experts say.

“If I could have done it (stayed anonymous), I would have.”

“Everyone’s different. Some people will enjoy this five minutes in the spotlight,” said Jason Kurland, an attorney for three Greenwich, Conn., wealth managers who split a $245 million Powerball jackpot in 2011.

“But a lot of times, winners come to me and they’re petrified. They don’t know how to protect themselves from other people with their hands out.”

California is among the majority of states that compel lottery winners to be publicly identified if they want to collect their cash.

Six states — Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina — allow winners to remain anonymous.

Man claims $425M lotto prize, shields face with check

In a news release, California Lottery officials described Buxton as a Northern California retiree who came to their offices on April Fool’s Day wearing a Yoda T-shirt that read, “Luck of the Jedi I have.”

It was all part of a deliberate display that Buxton orchestrated after he realized he bought the winning ticket in the Feb. 19 drawing, according to one of his advisers, Sam Singer.

Singer remained tight-lipped on Buxton’s life, but told NBC News that he’s a “hardworking, middle-class American with a large family. He has a wonderful, charming sense of humor.”

Buxton, a regular lottery player, had already purchased one ticket for the drawing, featuring one of the largest Powerball jackpots in U.S. history. He decided to buy a second ticket during a sandwich run at a Chevron gas station in Milpitas, north of San Jose. That one had the winning numbers.

Buxton chose to collect the cash option, which will leave him with $242 million before taxes. He told lottery officials he plans to use some of that money to start a charitable foundation focused on pediatric health, child hunger and education.

He’d also like to travel and go on a road trip with his family, Singer said.

“He said, ‘I want to enjoy my family. I don’t want to be like Ali G and come with cameras and be a spoof,’” Singer added.

While Buxton may decide to go public down the line, he wants to hold on to as much privacy as possible for now.

It’s a sentiment that former lottery winner Mike Wittkowski can appreciate. In 1984, the then-28-year-old took home $40 million in the Illinois Lottery — a king’s ransom at the time.

State law forced him to come forward in a news conference, although he was reluctant.

“If I could have done it (stayed anonymous), I would have,” Wittkowski told NBC News.

As part of a deal with his family, he split the money with his father, brother and sister. Wittkowski agreed to be paid annually over 20 years.

“The average lottery winner is a blue-collar individual, and all of a sudden you give them tens of millions of dollars and you post their name across the world. “

But with his name and picture plastered on the news, he was a target. Someone called in a bomb threat to his home. At bars, people would expect him to buy a round of drinks. More than 1,000 letters from strangers trying to tug at his heartstrings were mailed to his home.

“I had a lady who wrote me a 21-page typed letter and said she was down to her last $20, but she sent it to me registered mail,” Wittkowski told the Chicago Tribune in 2004, the year of his final lottery payment. “It cost her $19 just to send the letter.”

Despite the near-daily badgering, Wittkowski’s winnings changed his family’s life for the better. He retired at 28. He and his wife invested properly, and were able to live off the money and send their children to college. For as long as he could, he never told his kids about his good fortune — the fewer people who knew, the better.

“It’s so much better for your privacy and everything else, you get every crazy contacting you,” Wittkowski said.

Other jackpot winners have had far more difficulty staying under the radar. Those are the “lottery losers,” said attorney Andrew Stoltmann, who has represented millionaires after they’ve lost their money to con artists and in bad investments.

“The average lottery winner is a blue-collar individual, and all of a sudden you give them tens of millions of dollars and you post their name across the world, and then you expect them to act responsibly — it’s an unenviable expectation,” Stoltmann said.

“There are days I wish we were back to just getting paid every two weeks.”

Some winners have squandered their earnings. West Virginia man Andrew “Jack” Whittaker, who won $315 million in a 2002 Powerball drawing, lost it all in about four years. His misfortune reportedly included thieves stealing $545,000 from his car and lawsuits over his gambling debts.

Kurland, the lottery lawyer, said new winners can try to limit their public exposure upfront. During news conferences, they should say as little as possible, he advised.

And in states where it’s permitted, they can also form a limited liability company so that when a winner’s name is reported, it’s the LLC and not individuals being identified.

The attention is tempting for some.

Last August, when “Wild” Willie Seeley and 15 of his coworkers at an Ocean County, N.J., maintenance garage won a $450 million jackpot, they basked in the spotlight.

But a month later, Seeley lamented to NBC News that all he wanted was his old life back.

“There are days I wish we were back to just getting paid every two weeks,” he said.

A California man came forward to claim a $425 million Powerball jackpot on Tuesday, but tried his best to stay anonymous — a smart decision, experts say.

California Powerball winner: Why he’s keeping a low profile

California Powerball winner B. Raymond Buxton waited more than a month to claim the $425 million prize. But the California Powerball winner continues to keep a low profile. Why that might be a smart move.

  • By Channing Joseph Associated Press

The winner of one of the largest Powerball jackpots in history has finally come forward — but he still hasn’t quite revealed his identity.

B. Raymond Buxton, a Northern California man, waited more than a month to accept his prize on Tuesday at the California Lottery headquarters in Sacramento.

In a photo taken after he claimed the money on Tuesday, Buxton was covering his face with an oversize check for $425 million. Perhaps the only clue to his identity was his unusual shirt, which featured a picture of the Star Wars character Yoda and read, “Luck of the Jedi I have.”

“He really wants to live a private life as best he can,” Buxton’s publicist Sam Singer told The Associated Press. “He was a solidly middle-class American, and today he is a solidly wealthy one.”

Buxton is hoping to remain out of the limelight and doesn’t want to speak directly to the media, Singer said. He also won’t reveal his age, address or what he did for a living until his very recent retirement.

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One reason that Buxton waited to come forward on April 1 — April Fool’s Day — is simply that he has a healthy sense of humor, Singer said. “He still can’t believe it’s not a prank on him. But the reality is Ray Buxton is the winner.”

Another reason is that Buxton has been working since February with an attorney and financial adviser to establish new bank accounts, set up a charity and sort out tax issues.

“I’m going to enjoy my new job setting up a charitable foundation focused on the areas of pediatric health, child hunger and education,” Buxton said Tuesday in a prepared statement.

In some states, lottery winners can choose to remain anonymous. Last September, for example, a South Carolina resident won $399 million but kept his or her identity secret. Some states require the winner to go public, in order to publicize the lottery and to insure transparency and trust in the system. But winning the lottery can cause so many problems that some states are pushing legislation to allow winners to remain out of the limelight, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Lawmakers in both Michigan and New Jersey have unsuccessfully proposed laws to protect the privacy of winners who, they argue, are “prone to falling victim to scams, shady businesses, greedy distant family members and violent criminals looking to shake them down,” an AP story said.

The National Endowment for Financial Education cautions those who receive a financial windfall – whether from lottery winnings, divorce settlements, cashed-out stock options, or family inheritances – to plan for their psychological needs as well as their financial strategies. The Denver-based nonprofit estimates that as many as 70 percent of people who land sudden windfalls lose that money within several years.

Buxton bought the sole winning ticket for the Feb. 19 drawing at the Dixon Landing Chevron station in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Milpitas, about 10 miles north of San Jose.

Buxton was getting lunch at a Subway restaurant inside the station when he decided to buy another ticket because the jackpot was so large, lottery officials said.

After the winning numbers were announced, Buxton said, he sat in front of his computer in disbelief, checking and rechecking his ticket — and telling no one else that he had won. “Sitting on a ticket of this value was very scary,” he said.

“Once the initial shock passed, I couldn’t sleep for days,” Buxton said in the statement on Tuesday.

The $425 million jackpot is one of the largest lottery jackpots in U.S. history, though far from the record. The nation’s biggest lottery prize was a Mega Millions jackpot of $656 million in 2012. The biggest Powerball jackpot was a $590.5 million in May.

The Feb. 19 jackpot was the largest jackpot in California history, according to lottery officials, and the sixth-largest ever won in the United States.

The odds of matching all six Powerball numbers are 1 in about 175 million, according to statistics from the Multi-State Lottery Association in Iowa.

Powerball is played in 43 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Associated Press writer Sudhin Thanawala contributed reporting from San Francisco.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

California Powerball winner B. Raymond Buxton waited more than a month to claim the $425 million prize. But the California Powerball winner continues to keep a low profile. Why that might be a smart move.

Can You Spare a Million?: Why It Pays to Stay Anonymous After Lottery Win Man claims $425M lotto prize, shields face with check Becoming a newly minted