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Powerball's $192 million: Does it matter which Arizona man won?

December 10, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Arizona Lottery Director of Budget, Products and Communications Karen Bach stands with Arizona Lottery Executive Director Jeff Hatch-Miller at a news conference about Powerball.
Arizona Lottery Director of Budget, Products and Communications Karen… (Matt York / Associated Press )

His name is Matthew Good, he's from Fountain Hills, Ariz., and as of last week he's got $192 million.

He didn't want you to know any of that, though, and now, yet another lottery winner is learning there's rarely such a thing as secret wealth.

After the intense hype over who would win Powerball's record $587.5-million jackpot, Good chose anonymity once he realized he'd bought one of the two winning tickets. Jeff Hatch-Miller, executive director of the Arizona Lottery, previously told the Los Angeles Times that the man wanted to keep working and keep his old lifestyle, but Hatch-Miller added, “He realizes this win will change that.”

That may be so. As expected, Good's name was revealed to the public after records requests from the media, which are legally allowed to obtain winners' names in most states. When the Associated Press contacted Good's parents, they told a reporter their son had gone "out of sight." He'd previously issued a statement that said, "This has been incredibly overwhelming and we have always cherished our privacy."

The lives of lotto winners, however, rarely get the silent treatment from reporters and, just as often, the lottery officials who help arrange press conferences and publish their own stories about winning ticket-buyers.

Novelist Patricia Wood has written about the time her father won $6 million and a reporter asked him what he'd do with the jackpot.

"I wish my father had said, 'None of your business.' I wish my father had said, 'No comment.' I wish he'd had the option of staying anonymous," Wood wrote in an op-ed for CNN.

"He mentioned in passing that he was probably going to share it with family," Wood said. "His saying that caused expectations to rise and relatives oozed out of the woodwork. Acquaintances cornered us and shared their financial woes. Representatives of charities and churches descended like a plague of locusts. Our family became the target of scams. ... Having money didn't change him, but I noticed it certainly changed those around him."

Then there's Abraham Shakespeare, 42, whose $17-million Florida Lottery jackpot in November 2006 -- and the attention that came with it -- ended with a murder trial this week for Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore. She was accused of killing him for his remaining money after he'd loaned much of the rest to friends and they never paid it back.

According to the Powerball website, all but five states require lotteries to release winners' names, with lotteries frequently citing the publicity as a good thing.

“We like people to do publicity because we like players to know real people do win," Sally Lunsford, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Lottery, told the Los Angeles Times.

Kansas is a notable exception to the usual lottery rules around the nation -- winners can stay anonymous if they want. That's what happened with the Kansas winner who split the world-record $656-million Megamillions jackpot with two other winners in April.

Lunsford said the lottery's anonymity policy, which was set up by state law, made the lottery more attractive. “People will call and ask, 'Is it true if I buy in Kansas and win, can I keep my identity a secret?' " she said.

Andrew Stoltmann, an attorney who represents lotto winners, was more critical when he spoke with USA Today after the Megamillions jackpot earlier this year.

"It's a horrible rule for states to force winners to come forward," Stoltmann said. "The single best commercial that the lottery has is the press conference that winners hold discussing how the lottery winnings have changed their lives. … There's a real disconnect between the interest of the lottery officials and the winners. The best thing a winner can do is remain anonymous."

The New Jersey legislature is also considering a bill that would allow lottery winners to remain anonymous for a year until they get their bearings. In addition to media requests for winners' names, the Record in north New Jersey reported that about 70 for-profit companies request winners' names each year.

The broader history of lotteries in the United States, though, has been racked by scandal and fraud, suggesting the desire for winners' names is not totally misplaced. Lotteries are profit machines for state governments, and some advocates for transparency argue that similar principles of transparency for other public programs should apply.

In Kansas, though, even with the legal opportunity to stay hidden, many choose to publish their names anyway, some even before consulting lotto officials.

“On a big jackpot like that, they’ve talked it over with their family members or their attorney by the time they contact us," said Lunsford, also adding, "People have pretty much made up their mind when they walk in the door."

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