Panel OKs secrecy for lottery winners

2013-01-23T00:00:00Z Panel OKs secrecy for lottery winnersHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - The next big winner of the Arizona Lottery could be "None of Your Business."

Members of the House Government Committee voted 7-2 Tuesday to make the names of winners confidential. Only the amount of the winnings and city where the winner lives would be public unless that person agrees to be identified under HB 2082.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said there's a good reason to offer protection to those who win.

"It creates real problems with their lives," he told colleagues. "It's going to subject them to perhaps a lifetime of annoyance and harassment by being hit up by friends, relatives, strangers and charities."

But he said there's also a safety factor, creating a "terrible danger" for the winner's family.

"This is not a movie star or somebody who's used to big amounts of dollars," Kavanagh said.

"He probably doesn't have bodyguards - yet," he continued. "But his kids could be kidnapped."

The lone vocal opposition came from David Bodney, attorney for The Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV, who said making the names secret is contrary to the idea of having the business of the state run transparently. The risk, he said, is mischief.

"It is simply impossible to know whether the money is being awarded to an in-law, a family member, what have you," he told committee members. "These things do happen."

Bodney also said there is a larger public interest served by such disclosure, saying it could help a divorced woman with a child pursue a "deadbeat dad" who claims to lack the funds for child support.

For those who say their winnings are no one else's business, Bodney said, "If one chooses to participate and you're not prepared to let the public know that you've won, then don't play."

Kavanagh, however, said state law already recognizes that not everything a state agency does is public. For example, he said, the names of those who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon are not subject to disclosure. And tax returns filed with the state are considered confidential.

Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he sides with Kavanagh on this.

Borrelli said if there really is a deadbeat dad who wins the lottery, that information will have to be made available to state and federal tax authorities, which makes it available through a court order to someone owed child support.

"I think it is our duty to protect that minority of people, so very few, because there are a lot of bad people out there that are willing to take advantage of anybody," Borrelli said. The fact that the lottery is run by the state does not make the winnings "public money," making winners' names subject to disclosure.

But Rep. Tom Forese, R-Chandler, said he's not sure any state agency should be able to distribute large sums of money without public oversight.

"Even though the folks that run the lottery right now are good people, ... down the road, when we're no longer here, I have some concern with government being involved with anything that does not have complete transparency," he said.

Kavanagh said he was alerted to the issue when the lottery disclosed last month that 37-year-old Matthew Good of Fountain Hills was one of two people who won the $587.5 million Powerball jackpot at the end of November. Good sought to remain anonymous, but lottery officials were forced to disclose his name after a public records request.

Kavanagh said he has never spoken with Good, who, according to Lottery officials, took a one-time payment of $192 million.

Bodney said only five states that run lotteries have a blanket ban on releasing the names of winners.

The measure now goes to the full House.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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