It’s no secret that winning the lottery can attract a considerable amount of unwanted attention. Many states mandate that lottery winners above a certain dollar amount are required to appear and be named to collect their winnings. This can prove problematic, as past lottery winners around the world have faced their fair share of negative consequences stemming from a lottery windfall. Scam artists, long-lost relatives and even events as extreme as kidnapping and ransom have all been associated with winning big from a local, state or national lottery.
In New Jersey, that policy could change soon.
What the New Jersey bill would do
The consideration has been proposed in the state Senate in the form of measure S2267. In short, the bill would allow NJ lottery winners to enjoy the shield of anonymity indefinitely. This would stay true even in the case of public records requests.
S2267 is sponsored by Sens. Stephen M. Sweeney and Kristin M. Corrado, as well as Assembly members John J. Burzichelli, Jamel C. Holley and Clinton Calabrese. Co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Joseph Pennacchio and Troy Singleton, as well as Assembly members Angela McKnight, Shavonda Sumter, Carol Murphy and Yvonne Lopez.
The bill’s submission comes after a recent Powerball winner’s petition to remain anonymous. Claiming privacy concerns after winning the $559.7 million prize, the New Hampshire woman was reluctant to have her personal information shared by the lottery.
This is not the first time this topic has been visited in New Jersey legislation. In 2013, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have shielded winners’ identities for one year. His justification for the veto was that it would “undermine the transparency” of the lottery.
Current state lottery law
Under the current laws, the state lottery requires winners to come forward to claim their prize. The lottery commission is allowed to publish the names, addresses, prize amount and photographs of winners. The address does not include a street or house number. Additionally, a winner’s name, town and county are available through a formal request under the Open Public Records Act. The bill also would provide an exemption from such OPRA disclosure.
The new bill would provide a certain level of public anonymity. However, the details stipulate that the state retains access of winners’ identities as they relate to child support collections, delinquent student loan payments and other debts to state agencies.
Many lottery officials and experts on finance caution against announcing a big win shortly after the event. They cite a need to take time and let the change sink in before moving forward with alerting media as certain precautions should be taken following such a drastic change. While it is not uncommon for winners to call loved ones to alert them of the news quickly, experts urge winners to consult with a financial adviser regarding the implications of receiving such a massive amount of cash all at once.
If the bill passes, New Jersey would join six other states — Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Ohio, North Dakota and South Carolina — in allowing winners to remain anonymous.
A version of bill S2267 has also appeared in the state Assembly: bill A3616. If both chambers pass the bill, the proposed law would then pass to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for final approval.