Virginia Allows Anonymity for Jackpot Winners
On July 1st, 2019, certain lottery jackpot winners in Virginia will be allowed to remain anonymous thanks to a new bill signed into law last month. Governor Ralph Northam approved the amendment of state legislation to include senate bill S-1060, which prohibits the Virginia Lottery from disclosing any information about lottery winners who win $10 million or more.
The news comes only months after neighboring West Virginia amended its laws, allowing lottery winners of $1 million or more to remain anonymous. The West Virginia bill, however, stipulated that winners are only eligible for anonymity if they give five percent of their winnings to the State Lottery Fund.
Prior to S-1060 being passed, it was mandatory in Virginia under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose the winner’s name, hometown and the amount won. Lottery publicity rules differ from state to state, with arguments for both sides – making anonymity a tricky subject for lottery fans and legislators.
Why Would Lottery Winners Want To Remain Anonymous?
The upwelling of interest and support in anonymity laws can be partially attributed to concerns about crime and personal safety. There have been several documented reports across the U.S. of lottery winners being targeted by criminals – robbed, injured and sometimes even killed on account of their lottery win.
Some legislators, however, fear that anonymity laws might have adverse effects. Gov. Chris Christie blocked a New Jersey proposal to grant anonymity to lottery winners in 2013, citing concerns that anonymity would “undermine the [lottery’s] transparency”, and also even hinder sales.
The States That Allow Lottery Anonymity
Nonetheless, anonymity has found favour with the public and lawmakers alike; before Virginia’s law change, nine states already allowed outright anonymity: Delaware, Texas, South Carolina, Ohio, North Dakota, Kansas, Wyoming, West Virginia and Maryland. Georgia allows anonymity, but with caveats: winners of $250,000 or more can be granted anonymity for 90 days, after which information on them can be requested by the public. Winners in Puerto Rico have also historically been allowed anonymity on occasion.
New Jersey is the next in line to consider changing their regulations on the lottery, despite a 2013 defeat; bill S-2267 could soon find its way into state law, allowing indefinite anonymity for any lottery winner of any prize amount.
Thirty-three jurisdictions, including Puerto Rico and Washington DC, allow a more convoluted method of staying anonymous after a big lottery win; winners can set up trusts through which to receive their winnings. The trust’s name would be disclosed to the public, but not the trust’s beneficiaries. Each jurisdiction’s laws differ with regard to this practice.
$1.5 Billion to An Anonymous Winner
Earlier this year, a South Carolina woman took advantage of the anonymity law after claiming $1.5 billion in the largest single-ticket jackpot win in history – a jackpot total second only to a Powerball jackpot from 2016. The anonymous winner left her winnings unclaimed for 3 months, as she consulted lawyers about her best course of action. She made a public statement acknowledging her “tremendous social responsibility”, and outlining the recipients of her first charitable donations.
If you live in one of the states that grant anonymity, you can rest assured that your identity, and your Powerball winnings, are safe – unless you choose to reveal it, that is. As for the states that don’t: there may be other ways to secure your anonymity! To learn more about the legislation in your area, take a look at this breakdown of Powerball information by state.
On July 1st, 2019, certain lottery jackpot winners in Virginia will be allowed to remain anonymous thanks to a new bill signed into law last month.
Big Virginia Lottery Winners Will Be Allowed To Stay Anonymous
Wednesday April 10 th 2019
Virginia is to become the latest state to give lottery winners a choice of whether they want to go public or not. The House and Senate have passed a law that will come into effect from July 1st, allowing anyone who wins a prize greater than $10 million to remain anonymous if they wish.
The current Freedom of Information Act compels the Virginia Lottery to release the name, hometown and prize amount of winners. However, critics of the law such as Powhatan delegate Lee Ware said that winners were a ‘magnet for attention’ and argued that they should have the right to stay private. The bill, SB 1060, had to clear several hurdles before it was finally signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.
The new law will not allow anonymity for everyone, as winners of prizes up to $10 million will still have to go public. However, anyone who wins a larger amount, such as a Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot, will now have the option to keep their identity hidden.
The Pros and Cons of Anonymity Laws
Virginia has had numerous big winners, such as the state’s first Powerball jackpot winner Dave Honeywell. The Fredericksburg resident, a computer scientist with the Department of Defense, won $217 million in February 2013 after buying a ticket from Richmond International Airport on Superbowl Sunday. Under the existing laws, he had no choice over his name and hometown being released when he came forward.
The new law will give players who choose to stay anonymous extra peace of mind, as many previous winners have been hassled for money, bombarded by media requests and even expressed concerns about their security.
The main argument against anonymity has always been that everyone should be able to see who wins a lottery. The transparency of knowing that games are won by real people shows that everything is fair and encourages others to take part, which in turn leads to increased ticket sales and more money being raised for state causes.
The $10 million figure in Virginia’s new law is understood to have been chosen because that is the highest prize on offer in any of the state’s scratchcards, so there will still be lots of winners who do go public and the transparency of the lottery will remain intact.
Anonymity in Other States
More and more states are introducing legislation regarding anonymity. Winners in Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming can all stay private, while West Virginia also enacted a law recently that allows winners of more than $1 million to remain anonymous if they relinquish five percent of their prize.
In certain other states, such as Louisiana and Pennsylvania, winners can claim their money through legal trusts or limited liability companies, effectively shielding their identities from the public.
It will be fascinating to see whether Virginia’s change in policy has a positive or negative impact on ticket sales for big games such as Powerball and Mega Millions, and whether the first winner of more than $10 million decides to take advantage of the anonymity law.
Virginia is to become the latest state to give lottery winners a choice of whether they want to go public. The House and Senate have passed a law that will come into effect from July 1st, allowing anyone who wins a prize greater than $10 million to remain anonymous if they wish.