Lottery Winner Knows Just What to Do With $560 Million: Fight to Stay Anonymous
Posted February 8, 2018 2:18 p.m. EST
She was an engaged member of her New Hampshire community: the sort of local who purchased a lotto ticket at a quaint, modest market that some say makes the “best subs in town.”
That Powerball ticket, though, turned out to be worth $560 million — the seventh largest jackpot in this country’s lottery history. And, according to a lawsuit filed late last month, now all the winner wants is her anonymity — the simple “freedom to walk into a grocery store or attend public events without being known or targeted,” the lawsuit says.
So the winner of the Jan. 6 drawing, referred to in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, is going to court, arguing that New Hampshire lottery officials would be irreparably invading her privacy if they disclose her identity as a result of the state’s “Right to Know” law.
“As a lottery jackpot winner, Ms. Doe is now part of a small demographic which has historically been victimized by the unscrupulous with life threatening consequences,” the lawsuit says.
It continues, “The limited public interest in disclosure is far outweighed by Ms. Doe’s interest in remaining anonymous.”
The Powerball game is played in 44 states; Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most states consider the identities of winners of large prizes to be a matter of public record, though a few — like Delaware, Kansas and Maryland — allow winners to keep their identities private; others allow trusts, instead of individuals, to claim prizes. Over the years, lawmakers from various states have grappled with where on the spectrum to fall.
Jane Doe’s lawsuit says that the New Hampshire Lottery Commission has, in the past, allowed a trustee to be the public face of a jackpot, and seeks a court order allowing the winner in this case to do the same thing.
The problem is that Jane Doe has already signed her winning ticket — a decision she now calls “a huge mistake” — so she is asking that she be allowed to white-out her information and replace it with the name of a trust in the presence of the lottery commission. The request was denied, the lawsuit says.
Steven M. Gordon, the lawyer for Jane Doe, said in an email Wednesday that he and his team “are in conversations with the attorney general’s office” and had no additional comment. The Office of the Attorney General could not be reached Wednesday night, and the status of the lawsuit in Hillsborough County Superior Court was not clear.
In a statement, Charlie McIntyre, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission executive director, said that while officials understand that winning a huge Powerball jackpot is life-changing, “the procedures in place for prize claimants are critically important for the security and integrity of the lottery, our players and our games.”
“While we respect this player’s desire to remain anonymous, state statutes and lottery rules clearly dictate protocols,” McIntyre said. “After consulting with the New Hampshire attorney general’s office on this matter, we have been advised that the Lottery must proceed in accordance its rules and by state law in processing this claim like any other.”
The notion of sudden, incredible wealth is so universally tantalizing that it has served as the backdrop for movies like “Brewster’s Millions” (1985), with Richard Pryor, and “Lottery Ticket” (2010), starring Bow Wow.
And the same mythology that surrounds winning the lottery haunts its aftermath. One influential study in 1978 reported that lottery winners were not any happier than their neighbors or more optimistic about the future. Subsequent studies, however, have mostly debunked the idea of a lottery “curse” — suggesting that although winners’ happiness and well-being may decline in the first months after they cash in, their psychological situation more than rebounds over time.
Lawyers for Jane Doe write ominously in the lawsuit about six cases in which lottery winners became the victims of harassment, fraud or even violence after being identified.
Like many big winners, she “intends to contribute a portion of her winnings to a charitable foundation, so that they may do good in the world,” the lawsuit says. “She wishes to be a silent witness to these good works, far from the glare and misfortune that has often fallen upon other lottery ‘winners.'”