House passes bill to allow some lottery winners to remain anonymous

in Lottery

The House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill that would allow lottery winners earning more than $10 million to avoid disclosing their identities, a move that would include Virginia among only eight other states to allow such a law.

A similar bill, SB 1060, also has passed the state Senate on a 33-7 bipartisan vote, indicating the state legislature has all but approved the law. However, the Senate bill is different as it applies to any lottery winner, provided that winner submits a written notice to have his or her name withheld from the public. The winner’s hometown and award would remain public information.

The House version of the bill (HB1650, sponsored by Del. Lee Ware, R- Powhatan) would only apply those who have won more than $10 million in the lottery and does not require such winners to “opt-in” to having their privacy protected.

“With a bit of research, you will discover that numerous winners of large lottery prizes have been deluged with entreaties for donations, pummeled with potential scams, robbed, subjected to frivolous lawsuits, and threatened,” Ware wrote in an email.

He referenced a case from 2016 in which a lottery winner of $434,272 in Georgia was killed.

The Virginia Lottery paid a total of 67.7 million winning tickets from July 2017 until June 2018 at all prize levels, according to John Hagerty, a spokesman for the lottery. The largest of those awards was for $10 million.

This bill would give lottery winners more privacy to avoid the pressure that accompanies lottery wins — but also reduces some transparency in who receives those winnings. Having the names of winners publicly available allowed The Virginian-Pilot to discover that a number of lottery winners in Virginia were winning at statistically improbable odds last year. This lead to the Virginia Lottery investigating some of the winners.

The executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, Megan Rhyne, did not support either bill. The organization endorsed having three components to increase transparency — making anonymity temporary, applicable only to winners of a certain amount of money and requiring winners to request anonymity rather than making it automatic.

The Senate and House bills each have one of the suggestions but none have all of them.

“I’m not sure a $5 winner needs the same kind of protection as a $10 million winner,” she said.

Many of the states that have laws that allow lottery winners to shield their identity have similar restrictions, though not necessarily all of them.

The Virginia Lottery did not endorse any of the bills, according to Hagerty.