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Thinking of Going Off the Grid After Winning the Lottery? Not So Fast

Everyone dreams of it: having a small piece of paper with the right numbers printed on it and winning the life-changing $200 million, $700 million or $1 billion jackpot. But what happens after you win?

Many winners decide to remain anonymous — or at least try to — but that can be difficult when many states demand that the winners of large jackpots show their faces at news conferences.

At his own news conference in Madison, Wis., Manuel Franco, 24, who in a Powerball drawing last month won $768 million, the third-largest jackpot in United States lottery history, seemed to be trying not to divulge too much information about himself, perhaps to keep random family members from coming out of the woodwork. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, he declined to say where he grew up, where he lived, what kind of car he drove or where he used to work. (He quit two days after winning.)

Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota and Ohio allow lottery winners to conceal their identities if the winnings exceed a certain dollar amount, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Other states, like New York, make it easy for winners to collect their prizes under the cover of an L.L.C. or an entity. But states like Wisconsin want winners to come forward to claim their prizes, although Wisconsin does not require them to appear at a news conference as Mr. Franco did.

After Mr. Franco’s $768 million win, “it seems a little ridiculous that there isn’t privacy when it comes to that,” Gary Tauchen, a Wisconsin state representative, said. “Certainly you have a lot of fourth and fifth cousins and it is just a situation when you’re under high stress.”

While Mr. Franco was answering questions about his lottery winnings as concisely as possible, Mr. Tauchen was introducing a bill seeking to ensure the privacy of lottery winners in Wisconsin.

“I know that it is one of those life-changing experiences when you need some time to adjust,” Mr. Tauchen said. “You don’t need the stress of other people putting pressure on you.”

And for jackpot winners like Mr. Franco, the pressure comes nearly immediately.

“For the next two weeks, people are going to be outside of his house,” Jason M. Kurland, a lawyer who has represented several winners of large lottery jackpots, said on Wednesday.

“I get those letters every week,” Mr. Kurland said, referring to the mail he receives intended for his clients. “They range from congratulatory letters to individuals having a tough time asking for handouts, to organizations looking for donations, to business men and women asking for investors.”

Mr. Kurland, who calls himself the Lottery Lawyer and represented the person in South Carolina who won the $1.54 billion Mega Millions jackpot last year, advises his clients to delete all their social media accounts before they claim their winnings. He also tells them to try to remove their address from public view as much as they can and to get new phone numbers. If there are children involved, he will hire security for the first couple of days.

Mr. Kurland tries to help his clients retain some privacy after they win, but if privacy is hard to achieve in 2019, anonymity is nearly impossible.

“It is very hard to participate in civil life and be anonymous,” Albert Gidari, the privacy director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, said on Wednesday. “You can’t buy a car in cash and avoid disclosing who you are because now car dealers are financial institutions,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that it was nearly impossible to transfer money in and out of the United States without disclosing who you are to the government.

“He can get a lot of lawyers and accountants and figure out how to move and hide a lot of that money at great risk to himself for not complying with government reporting,” Mr. Gidari said. “You can’t get very far, but you can get far enough to get some degree of obscurity, even if you can’t get anonymity.”

Last year the winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot in New Hampshire took the state to court to retain her anonymity while claiming her prize. The woman’s lawyers argued that she would be accosted with requests for money, and the state argued that lottery winners must be disclosed to make sure that winners are not related to lottery employees and that winnings are distributed fairly. The court decided disclosing the winner’s name would be an invasion of privacy and allowed the woman to anonymously claim her winnings.

“You want to be able to enjoy this crazy amount of money you luckily won, but at the same time you want to keep your privacy, so it’s a balance,” Mr. Kurland said.

But going off the grid, setting up shop on the beach and enjoying the fruits of your ticket are not necessarily possible without informing the government.

“If you leave the country, it’s worse,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that leaving the country and failing to report assets in the United States and abroad could lead to losing those assets.

Some states allow the winners of large jackpots to remain anonymous, but is it ever possible to retain your privacy after a life-changing windfall?

Lottery ‘Civil Rights’ Bill Would Allow Multi-State Jackpot Winners To Remain Anonymous

Winners of multi-state lottery jackpots in Michigan would have control over whether their names are made public under a bill on the table in Lansing.

The legislation, Senate Bill 38, was introduced last month by state Sen. Curt VanderWall, a Republican. VanderWall tried to push the measure last year when he was a member of the Michigan House of Representatives. The 2018 bill stalled in a House committee. Efforts to shield the identity of a Michigan winner of a multi-state lottery jackpot date back to at least 2015.

Under Michigan’s lottery rules, winners can remain anonymous if the prize is $10,000 or more and as long as it didn’t come from a multi-state game. A lottery player won a $2 mm prize just last week and chose to remain anonymous. Mega Millions and Powerball, both played across the country, have had jackpots swell to more than $1 billion in recent years.

Here’s what the bill says:

“The [lottery]commissioner or an officer or employee of the bureau shall not disclose the name, address, or any other personal information concerning a winner of a prize awarded under a game played pursuant to a joint enterprise, to the extent required under the joint enterprise participation agreement executed by the commissioner, unless the winner of the prize agrees in writing to allow the disclosure.”

Under the proposed law, the identity of the player would be shielded from Freedom of Information Act requests. That provision might not sit well with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has advocated for more transparency in Michigan’s government.

According to a state website, the bill has been categorized as a “Civil rights: privacy” measure.

Other states with laws on the books

If SB 38 is successful, the Wolverine State would join a minority group of states in granting anonymity to Powerball and Mega Millions winners. Just Georgia, Texas, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Kansas, North Dakota, and South Carolina give winners the option of staying away from the public spotlight.

New Hampshire could be joining that list, after a court ruling last year allowed a winner of a $560 mm Powerball jackpot to remain anonymous. The New Hampshire Lottery declined to appeal the ruling, instead suggesting that the legislature take up the issue.

“We never want to be in an adversarial position with our players, but we take our obligation to uphold the laws set forth by the New Hampshire Legislature seriously,” said a statement. “Rather than appealing this ruling, we believe this matter should be taken up by the legislature if it believes changes are in order.”

The New Hampshire Lottery said previously that revealing the name helps protect the public’s perception of the integrity of the lottery. Many other states subscribe to that argument.

Virginia could also soon join the ranks. A bill to shield the identities of players who won $10 mm or more recently cleared the Virginia legislature and now awaits a signature from the governor.

Michigan may latch on to a recent growing trend, that grants multi-jurisdiction lottery winners the choice to remain anonymous. ]]>