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Burns & Gambo

Updated Jan 22, 2013 - 5:15 pm

Arizona House to consider anonymous lottery winners

PHOENIX -- Lottery winners in Arizona would be able to keep their anonymity under a bill being pushed in the state House of Representatives by a Republican lawmaker who says players shouldn't face safety risks just because they're lucky enough to win big.

Rep. John Kavanagh's proposal comes following a recent Powerball jackpot win by a suburban Phoenix man that raised questions about safety and privacy. Kavanagh says the public outing of a big winner could disrupt lives and potentially people at risk.

The bill, however, would still require the disclosure of a prizewinners' hometown and would allow the Arizona Lottery to publically present a giant check to winners who agree.

Lawmakers in at least two other states are urging similar plans, citing the need to protect winners from those who might try to take advantage of their newfound wealth.

Lottery officials say that having winners' names released helps drive sales and ensures that people know there isn't something fishy afoot, such as a game rigged so an insider wins.

``I understand the argument, but we're talking here about a person's safety, a person's being able to live a calm, normal life forever,'' said Kavanagh of Fountain Hills.

His bill had a committee hearing Tuesday and drew opposition from an attorney representing The Arizona Republic and Phoenix television station KPNX, who argued that the bill was well-intentioned but rife with very serious unintended consequences.

David Bodney, the media outlets' lawyer, said the state Lottery distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in public money.

He said the bill would impair public accountability and the appearance of fairness by hindering the ability of the press and the public to monitor the Lottery's action.

Bodney said providing anonymity makes it impossible to uncover fraud. He also said those to whom a winner was indebted would not be able to collect unless names were made public. He added that the bill would give special protection to a small group at the expense of the public.

The measure passed on a 7-2 vote. There has been no companion bill yet introduced in the state Senate.

Most states require winners' names to be disclosed in some way.

Of 44 states participating in Powerball and 33 in Mega-Millions, only Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota and Ohio allow blanket anonymity.

Some states require an appearance at a press conference.

Others, including Arizona, don't require winners to appear in public, but their names can be obtained through public records laws.

Kavanagh's bill would change that and allow for winners to keep their names secret. Their city or town and county of residence, however, would still be made public under the proposal.

He said no one contacted him to push the bill, he just thought it made good sense after he read about Matthew Good, a Fountain Hills man who won a share of the $587.5 million Powerball jackpot in November.

Good decided to take the one-time payout of $192 million and chose to remain anonymous. Lottery winners in Arizona are a matter of public record, and The Associated Press filed a legal request to learn his name.

``It occurred to me this individual's life will be forever disrupted,'' Kavanagh said. ``Anyone who knows he's now super rich will bug him wherever he goes for personal donations, for charitable donations.''

Kavanagh added that it's not merely a matter of annoyances, but of safety.

``His children are probably at risk at this point of being kidnapped,'' Kavanagh said. ``Suddenly somebody who's worth $200 million, and he had no security, that's kind of scary.''

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