Bill lets multistate lottery winners keep mum
If legislation working its way through the Michigan Senate had been law last month, the world might never know the name and face of Donald Lawson the 44-year-old father of two and self-described "hillbilly" from Lapeer who held court with the media on the day he claimed his prize for winning the $337 million in the Powerball lottery game.
While he wasn't at a loss for words in the spotlight, he nonetheless expressed reservations about being a part of the marketing machine.
"I'm an alone person. That's what I want to be. I don't like chaos, but I have to do it," he said.
The Senate could vote soon on a measure that would allow multistate lottery winners in Michigan like Lawson to remain anonymous. Supporters say winners should be allowed to keep their privacy, as they can for in-state lottery games, for their own safety.
A potential roadblock comes from the Michigan Lottery, which is concerned that people keeping mum about their moolah could lessen the state's ability to promote the Powerball and Mega Millions games, and that could hurt sales. To be sure, events featuring big game winners is a publicity jackpot, as evidenced by the throng of reporters and television news cameras that surrounded Lawson on August 31.
The Senate Fiscal Agency says the legislation, if enacted into law, would likely decrease press coverage and the promotional impact of prizes. That would indirectly reduce money going into the School Aid Fund. The lottery contributed more than $727 million to the fund during the last fiscal year.
Bill sponsor Tory Rocca, a Sterling Heights Republican, doesn't believe promotional concerns are valid. He said the real spike in sales comes as the drawings get larger and he doesn't see Michigan Lottery billboards on the state's roadways with winners' faces. He sees "the gigantic number that shows how big the jackpot is."
"By their own actions, they're showing what they really believe is advertising the lottery and driving sales is the size of the jackpot," he said.
Lottery spokeswoman Andi Brancato said winners have been featured in so-called Winner Awareness marketing and promotion campaigns. But the real proof in the power of promotion, she said, is that Powerball sales in Michigan have increased 13 per cent since Lawson claimed his prize.
"We have tremendous media coverage when we announce a winner and do things like have a news conference," she said. "We might not have had his face on a billboard but that word is getting out all over. We had a huge volume of coverage all over the country and even outside the country."
Brancato said the majority of the 42 states and other jurisdictions that participate in the Powerball and Mega Millions do not have anonymity requirements, but rules and requirements differ on what and how much can be revealed.
She said Michigan releases the name and home city of its winners, but declined to be specific about other requirements, such as whether winners must appear at news conferences. She said there is no document winners sign requiring them to participate, but "what they are required to (do) is at the discretion of the Lottery."
"We always want to be able to have the news event. We work very closely with the winners about the possibility," she said.
As for the legislation, Brancato said "we've shared our concerns" with lawmakers and will continue to do so. For every person desiring anonymity, she said, there are many more who want to see winners.
"You would really be surprised at the number of people who call us who say, 'There's never a winner,'" Brancato said. "People win, we pay prizes to them. It's important we're able to show that."