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House committee considers bill that would allow Texas Lottery winners to remain anonymous

Apr 4, 2017, 11:47 am

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Texas Lottery

Texas statute already allows winners to have 'minimal publicity'

The concerns of a border resident who hopes to win the lottery someday has led to a bill now being considered by lawmakers that would allow the Texas lottery's biggest winners to remain anonymous.

On Monday, the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee considered House Bill 59 by state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, which would let winners of $1 million or more remain anonymous. It would not allow winners to hide from child support or tax obligations, Guillen said.

"For most people, winning the lottery is one of the greatest days of their lives," Guillen told the committee. "But winners of especially large sums can also become the focus of unwanted attention."

Prior to Monday's hearing, Guillen said he filed the bill after being approached by a constituent who "aspires to one day win big."

"Living on the border, and with these announcements often broadcast for all to see, she's concerned that she can be abducted, taken to Mexico, and held for ransom within minutes," Guillen said. "I understand how this kind of publicity is important for the long-term viability of the lottery, but it poses an unnecessary public safety risk for Texans."

Under the Texas Public Information Act, the Texas Lottery Commission must release to the public and the media the names of the prize winners, their city of residence and the amount of the prize won.

If a winner currently requests minimal publicity (which most do), that is the only information ever publicly released about them.  The bill under consideration would hide even that minimal information from the public.

Supporters of House Bill 59 say it would save large lottery winners from the unwanted attention that often comes after winning big. Opponents say allowing anonymity would hurt public perceptions of the integrity of the lottery, which could impact sales — and reduce the state's take from the lottery.

"When it's state money being paid out, the public has the right to know," said Kelley Shannon, the executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

However, Guillen said anonymity could protect large lottery winners from becoming immediate targets for burglary, theft or even expectations from friends and family members for monetary assistance.

Currently six states — Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina — allow lottery winners to remain anonymous. Other states, including Texas, have rules in place that allow prizes to be collected through a trustee — such as a lawyer — which sometimes affords anonymity to the beneficiaries of the trust.

"Giving large lottery winners the ability to remain anonymous to the public is an easy fix that can provide much needed peace and quiet to the lives of some lucky Texans," Guillen said.

His measure was left pending in committee.

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