Every few months it seems, a major lottery jackpot reaches unprecedented heights. The person (or people) with the winning ticket(s) enjoy their brief moment of fame and their suddenly larger bank account. For some, however, the negatives of winning the lottery can outweigh the positives. 

Numerous stories around the country have highlighted how unpleasant, and in some cases, dangerous, it can be to win the lottery. Friends and old neighbors might come out of the woodwork looking for a “loan” and there have even been a number of different murders and wrongful deaths of individuals who had recently won the lottery. 

This has prompted some to call winning the lottery a curse, while at least one New Hampshire woman refused to accept her prize until she could be assured her identity was protected. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire later ruled that she could keep the money and her identity a secret.

Another 2018 lottery winner chose to remain anonymous after winning a $1.5 billion jackpot. The reason they were allowed to do so was because of where they bought the ticket: South Carolina.

South Carolina is one of ten states that allows lottery winners to keep their identities a secret. Other states include:

  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Texas

The other states that have laws about lottery winners and their identities include Arizona and Michigan, though in Arizona a winner’s identity is eventually revealed and in Michigan you can’t keep your name a secret if you win Mega Millions or Powerball.

Do You Have to Reveal Your Identity in California?

If you buy your winning lottery ticket in California, in order to claim your prize you do have to reveal your identity. Even though there has been controversy swirling around the issue of lottery winners and their identities, at the end of the day, California gaming officials say it comes down to government accountability. As one Assemblyman stated on the issue, “Beneficiary anonymity cannot overshadow government accountability to the public.”

The idea is that if lottery winners could remain anonymous, there would be no way to guarantee the integrity of the games. Individuals would not be able to ensure that their ticket had a real chance of winning if Mega Millions or Powerball could potentially claim the winner wanted to remain anonymous. What if there was no winner?

To be sure, this is far from a settled issue, in California or other states as well. As many as 8 states in the last two years have considered allowing lottery winners to remain anonymous. Some of those states include:

  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Oregon
  • Virginia

And, while efforts in Arkansas and Connecticut failed, it seems that there is at least some appetite for anonymity around the country. As for California, names have been a condition of winning since 1984 when Proposition 37—the law that allowed lotteries in the first place—was originally passed. In order to let winners keep their names anonymous, two-thirds of the legislature and the governor would have to sign off on it. 

What You Can Do if You Win the Lottery

But just because you can’t remain anonymous if you win the lottery in California doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to protect yourself. The California Lottery Winner’s Handbook gives some helpful advice to new winners. Ideas include:

  • Change your cell phone number
  • Stop answering calls for a few days
  • Find a trustworthy accountant to help you manage the money

The handbook also recommends you interview at least three attorneys and then hire the one you feel the most comfortable working with. In situations like this, a lawyer can help you find legal ways to protect your money and keep it safe from others. 

The good news is that, while your name will be revealed if you win the lottery in California, your address will not. And while you have seen pictures of winners accepting oversized checks, such press releases and photo ops are all optional. With some common sense and the help of a trusted lawyer, accountant, and friends and family, if you win the lottery, you can most likely still keep your winnings from becoming a “curse.”