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Thinking of Going Off the Grid After Winning the Lottery? Not So Fast

Everyone dreams of it: having a small piece of paper with the right numbers printed on it and winning the life-changing $200 million, $700 million or $1 billion jackpot. But what happens after you win?

Many winners decide to remain anonymous — or at least try to — but that can be difficult when many states demand that the winners of large jackpots show their faces at news conferences.

At his own news conference in Madison, Wis., Manuel Franco, 24, who in a Powerball drawing last month won $768 million, the third-largest jackpot in United States lottery history, seemed to be trying not to divulge too much information about himself, perhaps to keep random family members from coming out of the woodwork. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, he declined to say where he grew up, where he lived, what kind of car he drove or where he used to work. (He quit two days after winning.)

Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota and Ohio allow lottery winners to conceal their identities if the winnings exceed a certain dollar amount, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Other states, like New York, make it easy for winners to collect their prizes under the cover of an L.L.C. or an entity. But states like Wisconsin want winners to come forward to claim their prizes, although Wisconsin does not require them to appear at a news conference as Mr. Franco did.

After Mr. Franco’s $768 million win, “it seems a little ridiculous that there isn’t privacy when it comes to that,” Gary Tauchen, a Wisconsin state representative, said. “Certainly you have a lot of fourth and fifth cousins and it is just a situation when you’re under high stress.”

While Mr. Franco was answering questions about his lottery winnings as concisely as possible, Mr. Tauchen was introducing a bill seeking to ensure the privacy of lottery winners in Wisconsin.

“I know that it is one of those life-changing experiences when you need some time to adjust,” Mr. Tauchen said. “You don’t need the stress of other people putting pressure on you.”

And for jackpot winners like Mr. Franco, the pressure comes nearly immediately.

“For the next two weeks, people are going to be outside of his house,” Jason M. Kurland, a lawyer who has represented several winners of large lottery jackpots, said on Wednesday.

“I get those letters every week,” Mr. Kurland said, referring to the mail he receives intended for his clients. “They range from congratulatory letters to individuals having a tough time asking for handouts, to organizations looking for donations, to business men and women asking for investors.”

Mr. Kurland, who calls himself the Lottery Lawyer and represented the person in South Carolina who won the $1.54 billion Mega Millions jackpot last year, advises his clients to delete all their social media accounts before they claim their winnings. He also tells them to try to remove their address from public view as much as they can and to get new phone numbers. If there are children involved, he will hire security for the first couple of days.

Mr. Kurland tries to help his clients retain some privacy after they win, but if privacy is hard to achieve in 2019, anonymity is nearly impossible.

“It is very hard to participate in civil life and be anonymous,” Albert Gidari, the privacy director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, said on Wednesday. “You can’t buy a car in cash and avoid disclosing who you are because now car dealers are financial institutions,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that it was nearly impossible to transfer money in and out of the United States without disclosing who you are to the government.

“He can get a lot of lawyers and accountants and figure out how to move and hide a lot of that money at great risk to himself for not complying with government reporting,” Mr. Gidari said. “You can’t get very far, but you can get far enough to get some degree of obscurity, even if you can’t get anonymity.”

Last year the winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot in New Hampshire took the state to court to retain her anonymity while claiming her prize. The woman’s lawyers argued that she would be accosted with requests for money, and the state argued that lottery winners must be disclosed to make sure that winners are not related to lottery employees and that winnings are distributed fairly. The court decided disclosing the winner’s name would be an invasion of privacy and allowed the woman to anonymously claim her winnings.

“You want to be able to enjoy this crazy amount of money you luckily won, but at the same time you want to keep your privacy, so it’s a balance,” Mr. Kurland said.

But going off the grid, setting up shop on the beach and enjoying the fruits of your ticket are not necessarily possible without informing the government.

“If you leave the country, it’s worse,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that leaving the country and failing to report assets in the United States and abroad could lead to losing those assets.

Some states allow the winners of large jackpots to remain anonymous, but is it ever possible to retain your privacy after a life-changing windfall?

If you win Powerball’s $750M jackpot, can you stay anonymous? It depends where you live

Someone finally won the $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot, but there’s a reason why we might never know who the winner is. USA TODAY

Brian Tackett of Lansing was the lucky winner Oct. 20 of a $1 million Powerball prize. (Photo: Courtesy photo/Michigan Lottery)

LANSING — Those who want to win one of the largest lottery jackpots in U.S. history Saturday night may want to be aware of Michigan law.

If a Michigan resident wins Powerball’s $750 million jackpot, they won’t be able to hide their identity because the game is played in multiple states.

State law allows people who win games limited to Michigan’s borders and receive a single payout of over $10,000 to stay anonymous. However, anyone who buys a ticket in a multi-state lottery such as Powerball, Mega Millions or Lucky for Life cannot remain anonymous.

For most players, concerns about anonymity are the furthest thing from their minds, especially at a time like this, Jeff Holyfield, a state lottery spokesman, said.

“It’s like the old recipe for rabbit stew,” Holyfield said laughing. “First, get a rabbit.”

Powerball is a lottery offered in Michigan and 43 other states. The televised drawing is scheduled for 10:59 p.m. Saturday.

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If someone in Michigan wins the Powerball jackpot and chooses the lump sum option, their estimated take would be $429 million, before taxes, Holyfield said.

For information on the TV stations throughout Michigan that will air the Powerball drawing, visit powerball.com/watch-drawing.

Mega Millions is another lottery that’s also offered in 44 states.

That game’s estimated jackpot, according to to its website, was set at $40 million Friday night ($22 million cash option). The drawing was scheduled for 11 p.m. Friday.

These six states, Holyfield said, grant anonymity to lottery winners for all their games, including Powerball and Mega Millions, regardless of jackpot size:

  • Ohio
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • North Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • Kansas

Lottery players in the Lansing area may have some luck on their side heading into the weekend.

Brian Tackett, 48, of Lansing, won a $1 million prize in last week’s Powerball ticket drawing.

He bought the winning ticket at Holt Fine Liquor and Spirits, located at 2102 Aurelius Road in Holt.

Six states grant privacy to lottery winners, even for multi-state games. Televised drawing for third largest payout in U.S. history set for Saturday.