Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — His name is Matthew Good, he’s from Fountain Hills, Ariz., and thanks to Powerball, he’s got $192 million.
He didn’t want you to know any of that, though, and now he’s become yet another lottery winner who has learned that 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 said 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, from the lottery officials who help arrange news conferences and publish profiles of winning ticket-buyers.
Patricia Wood’s father won $6 million from the Washington lottery in 1993, and after he told a reporter that he’d probably share the money with family, “cousins came out of the woodwork,” Wood said, adding, “It didn’t occur to him to say ‘no comment.’”
“I’ve gotten phone calls from people I hadn’t seen in 25 years saying, ‘My wife’s dying of cancer. I need $25,000,’” she said.
Predatory financial services swarmed in, but so did churches and charities. “When you got home at night, and you see 100 things in your mailbox, and you have people calling you, and finding out your name – they’re absolutely wonderful requests, but at what point do you say no?” Wood said. “Is it family? Is it charity? Is it a child starving in Africa? And people resent it when they’re not one of the ones included in the beneficence.”
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 conviction for Dorice “Dee Dee” Moore. She was found guilty of killing him for his remaining money after he’d lent much of the rest to friends who never paid it back.
According to the Powerball website, all but five of 42 participating 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, said.
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 others 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.
When Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago securities attorney who also represents lotto winners, was told about how the Associated Press had obtained Good’s name, Stoltmann immediately said, “Unbelievable. Oh god, that’s not good. That’s probably the worst thing that could happen to him.”
From the unethical financial advisers and CPAs to the distant cousins and “the Uncle Ted who wants to open a car wash,” Stoltmann said, “the pressure and the stalking that he’s going to be under for the rest of his life, it’s brutal.”
“I won’t go as far as saying the publicity has ruined his life, but it’s certainly ruined any sense or semblance of privacy he may have had,” Stoltmann said.
The New Jersey Legislature is considering a bill that would allow lottery winners to remain anonymous for a year until they get their bearings. The Record newspaper in north New Jersey reported that, in addition to media requests for winners’ names, 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 the principles of open government should apply to these government efforts as well.
In Kansas, however, even with the legal opportunity to stay hidden, many choose to publish their names anyway.
“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.”