The winner of the $1.537 billion Mega Millions lottery won not once, but twice.
Someone bagged one of the richest lottery jackpots in U.S. history on Tuesday night and became a multi-hundred millionaire after taxes. As well, he or she bought the ticket in a state where they can choose to remain anonymous.
The winning ticket, not yet claimed, was purchased in South Carolina, one of only eight states that allow winners to avoid having their name made public. The others are Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas. Georgia also allows its winners to remain private if the prize is larger than $250,000.
Minnesota requires its winners to go public.
“The Legislature has made a priority of government transparency,” said Adam Prock, director of communications and legislative affairs at the Minnesota Lottery. “We want the public to know these games are fair and that they can see someone actually won.”
Spencer McGowan, president and senior portfolio manager of McGowan Group Asset Management in Dallas, thinks lotteries are acting in their own best interest by making winners go public. His firm advised a $20 million lottery winner in Texas.
“Their goal is advertising. The state benefits from everyone seeing the winner,” he said. “But anyone who wins that much money is a moving target.”
But state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, the chair of the government finance committee, said she thinks it’s important for lottery winners to remain anonymous.
“I would sponsor and support such a bill” to let Minnesota lottery winners be anonymous, she said. “There’s no question about it that if someone knows where you live and that you might have valuables inside, some odd people might think of that as an opportunity.”
Besides the potential for harassment, some lottery winners have feared for personal safety. A $32 million lottery winner in Florida in 2006 was fleeced by a woman who was later convicted of murdering him. In 2015 a $434,000 lottery winner in Georgia was later shot and killed in a home break-in. Seven people were charged with his murder after police said he was a preselected target.
Minnesota Lottery officials said that as of 5 p.m. on Tuesday about $100 per second was being spent on Mega Millions. If one of those tickets had matched all six numbers, the winner would have to provide name, city of residence, and the location where the ticket was purchased.
Minnesota has yet to produce any Mega Millions grand prize winners since the game was introduced in 2010, but it has produced 22 Powerball jackpot winners. Prock said the lottery is cognizant of winners’ safety. If someone wants minimal attention, the lottery can help by trying to get them in and out of the state lottery office with as little fuss as possible. “We’ve helped people come through the back door,” he said. “They don’t have to have their picture taken if they don’t want.”
Still, Prock noted that playing the lottery is a choice and as Minnesota law now stands, lottery winners names must be released, regardless of safety concerns.
There are options for people playing the lottery in Minnesota until a law is signed to allow anonymity. A New Hampshire winner was allowed to keep her identity private despite having signed her ticket with her actual name. She wanted the prize to go to her trust but did not sign it in the name of her trust. Trusts can be generically named such as “Northstar Trust.” Some states such as Colorado, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts allow winners to claim their prize through a trust.
In Minnesota, potential winners can consult a lawyer about a trust, wait for the Legislature to amend the rules, or head to North Dakota to buy a ticket.