Editorial: $560 million lottery winner deserves a mulligan

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Who wouldn’t want to know the name of the New Hampshire woman who won January’s $560 million Powerball jackpot, if only out of curiosity?

Same goes for the name of the person who bought the winning $487 million Powerball ticket at a Hannaford supermarket in Raymond in 2016. That winner was savvy enough to contact a law firm before signing the back of the ticket.

As a result, the name of that lucky stiff may never be known, since the winnings were claimed on behalf of a trust named by none other than Bill Shaheen, husband of New Hampshire’s senior senator, Jeanne Shaheen.

The winner of this year’s big Powerball prize, sold by Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack, also wants to remain anonymous. Unfortunately, she didn’t consult a lawyer until after. Following the instructions to the holders of winning tickets, she signed her name on the back of the ticket and added her address. The rules appear to be clear: Her her name, like that of all the other thousands of signers of winning tickets over the years, must be made public to protect the integrity of the lottery, officials said. If she altered the back of the ticket she would forfeit the $560 million. She decided to take the matter to court.

The anonymous winner is being represented by Steve Gordon of Shaheen & Gordon, the firm that set up the trust for the 2016 winner. She wants to use her winnings to support charitable causes while, Gordon said in a court filing, remaining “far from the glare and misfortune that has often fallen upon other lottery winners.” Name her and a line of supplicants would form at her door within the hour.

Transparency is, as the lottery’s executive director Charlie McIntyre says, crucial to the integrity of lotteries. If winners can remain anonymous, who’s to know whether a lottery is rigged? It’s happened before.

Though we agree with McIntyre in principle, Gordon’s client deserves a mulligan. The fault here lies with the lottery, whose website should have clearly informed winners that they have the option of creating a trust and should do so if they want to remain anonymous. We hope the court agrees.

Past winners of big prizes have been besieged by supplicants, targeted by con artists, deluged with offers of financial advice, swindled, and on occasion, murdered for their money. Until New Hampshire’s rules and lottery statutes are revisited, we suggest a compromise – partial anonymity. She should be allowed to belatedly claim the prize via a trust but her name should be shared, in confidence, with at a minimum, the lottery director and its three commissioners. That, in this case, should be enough to provide public confidence in the security and integrity of the games.

Transparency has already been compromised in states, including New Hampshire, that allow winners to collect via a trust. Six states, Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina, allow winners to remain anonymous. A few states make exceptions and grant anonymity to winners they fear might come to harm. Perhaps they recognize that the bigger danger to the success of lotteries may not be the fear that state-run games are fixed, but that big winners will rue the day their ship came in.