Lottery Winner Loses Anonymity

February 9, 2018

Imagine for a moment that you just found out that you are holding the winning lottery ticket to a $560 million Powerball jackpot. What is the first thing you would do? Would you consult the lottery website to see how you claim your winnings? Perhaps sign the back of the winning ticket?  According to an article from the Boston Globe, “Powerball Winner Sues to Remain Anonymous” and a complaint filed January 29, 2018 in Jane Doe v. New Hampshire Lottery Commission, that’s exactly what a New Hampshire woman did recently after winning the January 6, 2018 Powerball lottery.  She checked the lottery website and learned that the winning ticket is a bearer instrument (payable to the party possessing the instrument) until it is signed. She then wrote her name, address, city, and phone number on the back of the ticket and signed it, per the website’s instructions.

The woman then met with an attorney. It was during that meeting, prior to redeeming her winning ticket, where she learned that by signing the ticket in her individual capacity, she may not have the right to come forward as an anonymous winner. She could, however, have remained anonymous if she had created a trust and then had the trustee sign the back of the lottery ticket and claim the prize on her behalf.

The woman’s attorney contacted the Lottery Commission to see if his client could remain anonymous despite signing the back of the ticket. The Commission responded that they would be compelled to disclose the winner’s identifying information because a request had already been submitted pursuant to New Hampshire’s “Right to Know Law” (Chapter 91-A). Counsel for the woman then asked the Commission if the winner, in the presence of the Commission, could white-out her personal information on the ticket and replace it with the information for her trust, which she had since created. The Commission denied this request as well, saying any alterations to the ticket would make it invalid.

The woman then filed suit against the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, where she seeks, among other relief, the following: (1) a declaration that her identity is exempt from disclosure under New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law; (2) an order enjoining the Commission from disclosing the woman’s identity to any individual or entity; and (3) judicial authorization to alter the back of the ticket to replace her personal information with the information of the trust without invalidating the ticket and allowing payments to be made to her trust. Ms. Doe is also seeking an expedited hearing as time is of the essence. The ticket must be redeemed within one year.

As an instant winner of such a large sum of money, it’s understandable that the woman would have safety and privacy concerns and want to keep her identity confidential.  In fact, the complaint cites several examples of previous lottery winners throughout the US and even the UK who became victims of violence, threats, scams, harassment, and solicitations after they were identified as lottery winners. Ms. Doe wants to avoid this fate. She indicates in the complaint that she has charitable intentions and wants to give back to her community, but she would like to remain a “silent witness” to those good deeds.

According to a Today show article, there are only six states where a lottery winner is allowed to remain anonymous. Those states are Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Image source: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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