Big winner, big secret? Bill would shield IDs of MN lottery winners

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Michael Hawes, 46, shown at a news conference in Roseville on Dec. 5, 2006, where he was announced as a Powerball winner. Handing him the "check" is Clint Harris, the executive director of the state lottery. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Future lottery jackpot winners might be able to avoid the glare of their good fortune under a bill on the move in the Minnesota Legislature. 

The bill calling for a one-word change to state law cleared the Senate State Government Finance and Policy Committee on a voice vote Tuesday. It heads next to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It would add Minnesota to the more than half dozen states where anonymity is assured for winners.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, the committee chair, said the law change would shield people from unwanted attention as their lives are about to change in a dramatic way.

“Again and again you will hear of them being harassed and hounded," said Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. "Their life, though it is a great gift to have that, but the challenge of being able to manage that is only made worse when they don’t have the choice.”

The Minnesota Lottery’s balloon-and-oversized check celebrations are optional for jackpot winners. But their names become public no matter what.

Lottery Executive Director Robert Doty said winners can limit their exposure already.

“Lottery winners choose whether or not they do publicity," he said. "Winners are not required to have their photos taken, share details of their story or participate in a news conference.”

Doty said names are considered public as a game integrity measure. He says the public needs to be assured real people win and the lottery isn’t rigged.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, is a bill cosponsor. She said the privacy concerns outweigh the lottery's concern about perception.

"In my mind, the balance tips in favor of the individual," Rest said before letting her mind wander. "When I win the lottery, I'm not going to tell any of you. I want it to be law by that time."

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