MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Though lottery fever swept the state as the Powerball jackpot climbed to more than $1 billion in January, the West Virginia Lottery’s public check presentations to jackpot winners may be over if a bill currently in the legislature is passed.
House Bill 4505 would allow winners of big lottery jackpots to not make their names and faces known to the public to claim their prizes. Under the bill, Powerball, Mega Millions or Hot Lotto winners can opt to remain anonymous. The winner would contact the lottery director at the West Virginia Lottery headquarters in Charleston via certified mail or email, and schedule an appointment to meet in-person to confirm the win.
John Myers, acting director of the West Virginia Lottery, said he has a few issues with the proposed bill and said he is not in favor of it.
“Players who play our games expect a certain level of transparency, including the advertising of the jackpot winners. Players want to make sure someone actually won the money. That’s one of the things that sets Powerball apart from other games: Advertising the winner creates excitement and gets people wanting to play,” Myers said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, is the lead sponsor of the bill, and Skinner said he introduced it after a constituent approached him.
Skinner said the support for the bill, at least in the House, was “surprising,” but said he thinks the bill relates to an issue that interests the public.
While those who support House Bill 4505 say keeping winners anonymous would prevent friends, neighbors and relatives from asking the winners for money, Myers said he thinks that is more likely to happen if people don’t know who the winners are.
“We hold press events when someone wins a large jackpot, and the benefit of that is that people aren’t knocking on the winner’s door after asking for an interview or asking for money. We can also tell the winner things they can do to manage their winnings in the long run,” Myers said. “They say you have more friends and relatives after you win the lottery, and I get that privacy is an argument, but the people asking for money usually go away after a period of time.”
Skinner said he thinks the opposite is true.
“If they know who you are, they will come begging to you,” Skinner said. “If you look at a lot of the people who have won the lottery, it ruined their lives.”
The press events that occur when someone wins the lottery are “free publicity for the West Virginia Lottery,” in Skinner’s opinion. Skinner said lottery winners should have the option to decline participating in press events, and said they should be paid by the Lottery for their publicity.
“I think a lot of people are interested to see what happens with this bill, especially after the big billion-dollar Powerball game we just had. That got people fantasizing about winning the lottery,” Skinner said. “Whether you win $500, $5,000 or $50 million, you should have the right to privacy.”
House Bill 4505 cleared the House on Monday, passing with a 95-3 vote, and is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
If the bill becomes law, Myers said the West Virginia Lottery would have to review its privacy procedures, and said he is unsure if the privacy law would apply only to big jackpots or to all West Virginia Lottery games.
Currently, Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina are the only states allowing lottery winners to remain anonymous.
-Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.