State Politics

If you win the lottery, should your name stay private?

Mega Millions is among the many games offered by the Idaho Lottery.
Mega Millions is among the many games offered by the Idaho Lottery. AP file

When Idaho Lottery spokesman David Workman heard the justification for HB 95, a bill that would exempt lottery winners’ information from the public record, he was surprised.

The bill would have kept the names of people who won $600 or more secret unless they gave written authorization for their information to be released. It also would have kept such names from being released until at least six months after a prize was claimed.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said he was spurred to introduce the bill after speaking with an elderly constituent who won a lottery prize. The woman — who asked to remain anonymous — complained that she “suddenly was inundated from all over the world with all types of solicitation and harassment, phone calls, you name it,” he said.

In the 11 years Workman has been with the lottery, he said, he’s heard no such complaints. Lottery director Jeff Anderson told the Associated Press that his department has received “few” complaints of harassment.

“That would suggest it’s pretty uncommon,” Workman said last week after the Idaho House of Representatives voted 61-9 to send the measure to the Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee killed the measure on an 8-1 vote.

Uncommon — but lottery winner Tiffany Baker said something similar happened to her. In early February, she won $30,000 on a scratch ticket from a Garden City gas station. She didn’t tell anyone, fearing that strangers and acquaintances would come out of the woodwork to try to claim a portion of the winnings.

And they did. After the Idaho Lottery shared Baker’s photo on its Facebook page, Baker said, she had so many friends sharing and commenting on the post that she had to delete the Facebook app from her phone.

“We did have some people hit us up that were short on their rent,” Baker said. “I’m that person, I’d help them out whether I won money or not.”

The Lottery’s Facebook posts, however, are a separate matter from what Luker’s bill proposed, Workman said. Lottery winners don’t have to have their faces plastered on social media and can opt out of those promotional efforts. And the organization “would certainly be responsive” if winners asked to be removed from its website, he said.

The lead argument against the legislation was one of public transparency, and of the permanent effects of hiding a winner’s name from the public record.

Five states currently allow winners to remain anonymous, the Associated Press reports. In Idaho, records requests can currently provide a winner’s name and town of residence, the game they won on, the prize amount, the store where they purchased the ticket, a photograph of the winner (if one is taken) and the store’s commission.

“When we write our checks, they are on the state of Idaho treasurer’s rotary. These are public monies won through a public process,” Workman said. “If we write a check for $100 million, the public has the right to know who the winner was, even if that winner selects ‘no publicity.’”

Transparency was one worry of Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, one of the handful of House lawmakers who voted against the bill. A House State Affairs Committee member, he said no other legislators on that committee offered examples to back Luker’s concerns of widespread harassment when they discussed the bill.

Armstrong said he didn’t understand the appeal of a bill that appears to stymie transparency.

“I don’t want to disparage the rest of the body, but for a conservative legislature, it seems a strange approach to take,” he said. “I’m anti-gambling, but if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”

The transparency issue put Luker between a rock and a hard place, said Janis Titmus, who won $50,000 on a scratch ticket from a Boise Jackson’s store last December.

She, Baker and another recent winner reached by the Statesman, Tanya Gillespie of Pierce, all said they supported some version of the legislation — though they’ll keep playing the lottery without it.

Titmus asked a coworker to double-check her winning ticket, then told only her husband about her win.

“I was worried people would ask for money,” Titmus said.

Once her photo hit the lottery website, people she hadn’t told started getting in touch — though none asked her for money, she said.

“I didn’t know people looked to see who won, but I guess they do,” she said.

Gillespie won $50,000 in January 2016 on a Powerball ticket purchased at the Pierce Mini Mart. In her small North Idaho town, she acknowledged, everyone might have found out about her win anyway.

“In a community like I live in, you can go outside and people know what you’re doing before you know what you’re doing,” Gillespie said.

Still, she said, some people “like their privacy” and a law aiding that would be beneficial.

“If it’s elderly people who win, they can be very easily taken advantage of,” Gillespie said. “If (a bill) helps protect them, of course we should have it.”

Nicole Blanchard: 208-377-6410, @NMBlanchard

The Spokesman-Review contributed.