April 18, 2012 -
In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, winners have to be identified.
By Bill Ordine
The third winning ticket in the biggest lottery in history was accounted for when a retired couple from a small town in Illinois was announced as winners on Wednesday.
The lucky folks are Merle and Pat Butler, of Red Bud, Ill. Merle, 65, and Pat, 62, have spent all their lives in the town of Red Bud and their share of that huge $656 million Mega Millions that was decided on March 31 is $218 million in annuity form, or $158 million in the cash option.
The Butlers share this lucky distinction with holders of winning tickets in Kansas and Maryland, but there is something a bit different about the Butlers’ circumstance.
We know who they are.
In Kansas and Maryland, lottery regulations allow winners to remain anonymous. In Kansas, the veil of secrecy is so complete, even the gender of the winner was not revealed. In Maryland, the three people who shared the prize whimsically called themselves the Three Amigos and they are known to be public school employees. They even took a photo hiding behind their big check. But their identities are unknown to the public
But the policy in Kansas and Maryland is not the approach everywhere.
Illinois requires that winners be identified. The reason is simple. It’s about the integrity of the game. Folks who play the game should be assured that there are real winners out there, so the state reasons. There was a time when scam lotteries were fairly common, and there were no legitimate winners.
Lottery players in Pennsylvania and New Jersey should know that they cannot expect anonymity.
In the New Jersey Lottery’s frequently asked questions about disclosure, there is this …
A winner’s name, town, and county can be made available either through press release, or through formal request for public records by any citizen or member of the media.
And from the Pennsylvania Lottery website we learn that the following information on its website in the Winners’ Circle:
Name of the winner(s)
City and county of residence
Name of game won
Date of win
And here’s the stated rationale.
The Pennsylvania Lottery must be accountable to the taxpayers and residents who benefit from Lottery-funded programs, and transparency of operations is key to the Lottery’s integrity. Providing winners’ information is also important to players who want to see the winners of the games they play.
Not everyone agrees. Richard Lustig, who says he has won seven lottery grand prizes and has authored the book, Learn How to Increase Your Chances of Winning, contends that winners deserve anonymity if they want it.
“They’re bombarded by the media, by relatives who come out of the woodwork, by strangers looking for money,” Lustig said.
Lustig, who says his book was among top 100 sellers on Amazon during the Mega Millions frenzy, concedes he understands that there is another side to the identification coin — that there is value in making sure that the players understand the games are legit.
But he remains an advocate for privacy. “I don’t think it’s fair that these people are thrown to the wolves,” he said. “Sometimes these people have to change their phone numbers or even move.”
We respectfully disagree.
Lotteries are public events. As the Pennsylvania Lottery notes, the money that the states keep from lottery sales funds public purposes, whether the revenue goes into a state government’s general fund or is directed to a special area, such as seniors or education.
So while a lottery may appear to involve only the people playing the game, in reality, we’re talking about money that is a concern to all taxpayers. And whenever taxpayer interests are involved, there should be as much transparency as possible.
And, of course, there is the important issue regarding the lottery-playing public’s confidence that the games are legitimate. And not just for the mega-jackpots but for all the games.
As far as coping with the inconveniences of sudden wealth — we can all imagine far greater inconveniences.
Just call it part of the game.
How do you feel about identifying winners — should it be required? Let us know.
Photo: Merle & Pat Butler, Credit Illinois Lottery
Photo: Maryland’s Three Amigos, Credit Maryland Lottery