As It Happens

Should a $560M lottery winner be allowed to remain anonymous?

A New Hampshire woman says she wants the money, but not the attention that comes with it. Now she's gone to court under the name Jane Doe, to fight to shield her identity from the public.
A New Hampshire woman has won a $560M US Powerball jackpot, but is fighting to remain anonymous, while the lotto commission requires winners to disclose their name and hometown. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Story transcript

A New Hampshire woman may soon become both rich and famous — even though she wants no part of the latter.

The woman, currently identified only as Jane Doe, won the $559.7 million US ($701.1 million Cdn) Powerball jackpot in January. She's asking a judge to allow her to remain anonymous. But the lottery's commission says they are legally bound to release her name and hometown in the interest of transparency and accountability.

Your friends look at you differently, your relatives look at you differently and you just lose yourself.- Lawyer Bill Shaheen

Bill Shaheen, one of Doe's lawyers, argues that his client needs some time to reflect and plan on what she wants to do with her newly-won fortune without a swarm of media or supplicants knocking on her door.

"The first steps are ... how do you invest it wisely, and how you spend it generously? That takes time to reflect and people who win the lottery get bombarded with requests and ideas and there is no peace of mind," he told As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay.

"Your friends look at you differently, your relatives look at you differently and you just lose yourself. And that's something I'm trying to protect and preserve for her."

Jane Doe's lawyer is requesting permission to erase the winner's name from the ticket and replace it with the name of a trust, allowing her to claim the jackpot while maintaining her privacy. (Philip Sears/Reuters)

Shaheen cited the recent case of Mavis Wanczyk, the Massachusetts woman who won the $758.7 million US Powerball in 2017, as an example of how the big win can turn into a big headache.

Local police had to patrol the area around her home regularly, and even parked a cruiser in her driveway, to deter media or others from trying to contact her.

"She is a long-time resident of New Hampshire and is an engaged community member," reads Doe's request, according to New Hampshire Public Radio. "She wishes to continue this work and the freedom to walk into a grocery store or attend public events without being known or targeted as the winner of a half-billion dollars."

The state's attorney general disagrees with Shaheen's argument.

"[The winner's] desire for normalcy and anonymity is substantially outweighed by the public's right to transparency in the operation of lottery games," the attorney general's office said.

Mavis Wanczyk won the $758.7 million Powerball prize in Massachusetts in 2017 and was hounded by people wanting to help her spend it. (Josh Reynolds/Associated Press)

The case is further complicated because Doe signed her name on the back of the winning ticket. Shaheen says the lottery commission, on the back of the ticket, urges winners to sign it immediately to ensure no one else can claim it.

"It doesn't say if you sign the ticket you've lost your anonymity. So that is a bit unfair. And that's the argument we're making," said Shaheen.

Doe has requested permission to whiteout her name off of the ticket and replace it with the name of a trust so she can claim it anonymously. Shaheen said he has successfully advised other lottery winners to do so.

He added that Doe stands to lose $15,000 in potential interest for every day she delays collecting her winnings.

"I know she wants to give a significant part of it away to charity. And so, which charity? I mean, that won't cover all the charities in the world — that won't cover even a drop of them. But she wants it to be meaningful," he said.

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