Editorial: Keep lottery winners’ names public

Disclosure ensure integrity

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable and compassionate idea.

A bill pending in the state Legislature (A7539/S5466) would allow New York lottery game winners to choose to be anonymous and not to participate in any lottery promotions.

The justification is that individuals who win big lottery prizes are often inundated with requests for donations, as well as business and investment opportunities that might be scams. They also often having to change their phone numbers and disappear from social media to hide from money-grubbers.

So if someone wins a big jackpot, what’s the harm to society if the government sponsoring the lotteries keep their names a secret?

The problem with that is the same problem we all should have with keeping other government information secret. It takes away the power of citizens to verify the integrity and legitimacy of the lottery system and prevents people from knowing how their tax dollars are being spent.

The lottery isn’t a private venture. It’s government sponsored gambling. Taxpayer dollars are spent to create and promote the games. And revenue from the purchase of lottery tickets, slot machines and casino games goes into the state government’s budget as a source of revenue, just like your income tax payment or your driver’s license fee.

Last year, regular lottery games generated a whopping $7.68 billion for the state. Add in another $2 billion from casino and racino games, and you’re talking almost $10 billion, about a third of which goes to schools and represents about 14 percent of total school aid.

The lottery division is a full-throated government program. And as with other government programs, transparency is essential to ensuring that it’s conducted fairly and free of fraud and abuse.

If you don’t identify any winners, how do you know if anyone won at all? How do you know the whole thing isn’t a giant sham? (Government never lies, right?)

As a 2015 New York Times article pointed out, how does the public know the money allegedly going toward random winners isn’t being instead awarded to government officials or to people who make large campaign contributions? How can citizens verify that there is an actual human recipient of the lottery money if they can’t attach a name to the winner?

Keeping winners anonymous creates a whole bunch of questions, all leading back to the integrity of the system.

Having your name associated with something like a lottery winning might force you to sacrifice your privacy. But that’s the chance you take when you deal with government.

Government employees, we’re sure, aren’t thrilled with having their salaries posted online. But that’s the sacrifice they make for working for the government instead of in the private sector.

If you’re concerned about your privacy being violated should you hit the jackpot, you have a simple option: Don’t play.

Only six other states allow their lottery participants to stay anonymous, which means the remaining state governments that host lotteries believe the integrity of their lottery overrides the personal privacy concerns of the winners.

The legislation flies in the face of government transparency and openness.

The public has a right to know who’s winning its government jackpots. They should keep that right.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Leave a Reply