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Editorial: Identify lottery winners

Editorial: Identify lottery winners

If you don't want your name to be made public when you win, don't play
Editorial: Identify lottery winners
Photographer: Shutterstock

The whole controversy over whether the winner of a lottery prize should have the option of remaining anonymous boils down to one thing. Choice.

If you don’t want to deal with the consequences of getting a speeding ticket, don’t drive faster than the speed limit. 

If you don’t want the responsibility of raising a family, don’t have kids. 

And if you don’t want the inconvenience and annoyance of having your name made public when you win the lottery, don’t buy a lottery ticket.

It was reported Monday that a New Hampshire woman who won a $559.7 million Powerball prize in January is asking a court protect her identity.

She says she wants the money. (Don’t we all.) But she doesn’t want the hassles of being a big lottery winner, such as being besieged by requests for money, losing her ability to go out in public incognito, having to change her phone number and perhaps address to avoid scams, theft and unwanted visitors.

We respect that. No one wants to be hassled. But all that is part of the deal for her accepting the prize money.

The government has a strong interest in having the identity of lottery winners made public.

For one, identifying the winners helps ensure the integrity of the lottery system.

If the public doesn’t know who won, how can they be sure the prize was awarded at all or that it didn’t go to some politician or big campaign contributors?

One could argue that a state audit or some independent review could ensure the integrity of the system without exposing winners to all the negative publicity that comes with it. Perhaps true.

But how much trust would you put in  a report you couldn’t review with your own eyes? Even state audits are subject to transparency laws so the public can check up on the checkers.

Disclosure of winners goes to another reason for the state to make the names public: It helps promote the games and generates more income for the state.

New York state receives almost $8 billion from its lottery games each year, a portion of which goes to fund education. Seeing winners holding up those giant checks with all those zeros on them is a strong incentive for people to play.

The final and best reason for disclosure is that the winnings are public money, and the citizens have a right to know how public money is being spent.

Do you think school teachers and other public employees enjoy having their names and salaries listed on a government website for all to see? Probably not. They accept that disclosure as a qualification for accepting a state paycheck.

State legislators once again are trying to pass legislation (A716/S219) giving lottery winners the option of being anonymous. It failed to pass last year, and it should fail again this year.

If you want to win the lottery, you have to understand that there are certain responsibilities that come with accepting your winnings. One of them is that the public gets to know who you are.

If you don’t want that responsibility, you have a choice. Don’t play.

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