TRENTON – A state lawmaker is sponsoring legislation that would give New Jersey lottery winners concerned about the adverse consequences their newfound wealth may bring to stay out of the public eye for a year.
“Winning the lottery can be a blessing and a curse. Once their identities become public, lottery winners can become targets for unscrupulous individuals and scam artists looking to get a piece of their winnings. In worst case scenarios, lottery winners have been kidnapped and killed,” said Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “Unless the individual wants his or her identity revealed, residents who are lucky enough to win the lottery should have the option to remain private for the sake of their own safety.”
The bill (A-2982) directs the State Lottery Commission to establish by regulation that lottery winners may remain anonymous for one year, and that the identity of a lottery winner who chooses to remain anonymous not be included in materials available for public inspection during that time.
Current regulations allow the State Lottery to use the names, addresses, prize amount and photographs of winners. The address used does not include a street or house number. In addition, a winner’s name, town, and county are available under the Open Public Records Act.
There are numerous stories across the country of lottery winners whose overnight-millionaire stories ended in tragedy. Illinois resident Jeffrey Dampier, who won $20 million in Illinois’ lottery in 1996, was kidnapped and killed by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend who targeted him for money. Abraham Shakespeare won the $31 million jackpot in Florida in 2006. He disappeared in 2009 and his body was found in early 2010 under a concrete slab. A woman who had befriended him and then seized control of his remaining fortune was charged in connection with his murder.
“It can be tempting to share such great news with the world, and it certainly makes for great publicity for the lottery authority to showcase the winner of a multi-million jackpot, but for some winners, the celebration may not be worth the risk. Those folks should have the option to enjoy their winnings without fear their well-being will be compromised by opportunists,” added Burzichelli.
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