Tennessee Lottery winner information to remain open to public

Tennessee Lottery winner information to remain open to public

March 12th, 2014 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Kelly Jarrett purchases lottery tickets from the Kanku's- Smile Fuels gas station off of East Brainerd Road.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Tuesday proved to be an unlucky day for state Sen. Janice Bowling's bill that sought to keep the names of Tennessee Lottery winners secret.

Senate State and Local Government Committee members voted 4-2 against the Tullahoma Republican's proposal after state Lottery Corp. and open-government advocates warned it would undermine players' trust in the games. Two members abstained.

Bowling said the bill was needed to deal with what she called the "vulnerability" of lottery winners caught up in a maelstrom of publicity and targeted with requests for money and even threatened over multimillion-dollar awards.

The bill said winners would have to opt in to having their names disclosed. Under current law, only winners' names and hometowns are released.

Bowling said the issue was brought to her attention by an unnamed constituent, and she agreed there was a "need for some protection for people who win the lottery."

Someone winning a $100 million multi-state game like Powerball or MegaMillions may be unsophisticated and be at a "vulnerable point," Bowling argued.

But Wanda Young Wilson, the Tennessee Lottery's general counsel and chief operating counsel, said of the 46 states that have lotteries, only four keep the information off-limits to the public.

There's a reason for that, she suggested.

"Players need to be sure these are real people," she said. "We have no doubt that changing the law will have a negative impact."

Wilson said if players believe "some secret person won ... that chisels away at the trust."

Also opposing the bill were Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Press Association, Deborah Fisher of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and Whitt Adamson of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters.

"We can't lose sight of the fact that we're talking about a billion-dollar, quasi-public enterprise that relies on the trust of the public," Gibson told committee members.

State and Local Committee Chairman Ken Yager, R-Harriman, said having secret winners could "give birth to a wealth of conspiracy theories about whether everything is above board."

Bowling disagreed, saying, "with all due respect, there are conspiracy theories about all sorts of things."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.