$50M Lotto Max win can buy anything except anonymity
Former lottery winners say lucky ticket holder should prepare for wave of unwanted attention
The hucksters started calling only hours after Brenda Schley's good fortune was announced.
Strange cars turned up outside her Clearwater, B.C., home. Then strangers began rubbing the 57-year-old for luck.
And that win only involved $1.75 million.
"It's almost scary," says Schley, a year after matching six out of six numbers on a Lotto 6/49 draw.
"We had to leave the house for about 10 days because the phone was ringing off the hook."
A very public windfall
Schley says she can't imagine the spotlight awaiting the holder of a $50 million winning Lotto Max ticket who stepped forward this week after waiting nearly a year to claim the prize.
Like it or not, their days of anonymity are about to end.
"I think people think that they have a choice that they can just say 'I'm not going to tell anyone if I won the money'," Schley says.
"I've heard people say that — but I know that's not the way it works."
In fact, one of the conditions of receiving a prize from the B.C. Lottery Corporation is consenting to the release of your name and photo as the winner of the prize. Similar rules govern other Canadian lotteries.
"The minute a player hands over his three or five dollars and purchases a lottery ticket, he is agreeing to those conditions," says BCLC's Chris Fairclough.
Lotteries generate an incredible public interest, he says.
"Our job is to pay out the rightful ticket winner and to ensure transparency so that the public — and lottery players — know that there are indeed winners."
'People know a lot about you'
In the wake of lawsuits and exposés about crooked lottery retailers claiming prizes for themselves, the desire for transparency on behalf of gaming giants is understandable.
But that doesn't make the spotlight any easier to endure, one winner says.
"I would have liked the option for it to be private," says one Vancouver Island winner.
CBC has agreed not to name the woman, who won a million dollars in 2014, and was reluctant to expose herself to publicity and fraudsters again.
Her picture is among dozens on BCLC's website featuring dazed winners struggling to hold up giant cheques overflowing with reams of zeroes.
She says she understands the need to advertise and the public's desire to know, not to mention a lack of sympathy for lottery winners: "But suddenly — people know a lot about you."
Winners offered a choice
By contrast, the licensed operator of the UK National Lottery, Camelot, offers winners the choice of anonymity.
And six U.S. states also allow lottery winners to keep their identities private: Delaware, Maryland, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina.
The office of B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner says they received a complaint several years ago about BCLC's use of lottery winners' personal information for marketing purposes.
They wouldn't comment on the specifics of the case.
In pushing for anonymity, U.S.legislators have argued more than just embarrassment is at stake.
In 2013, a Chicago dry-cleaner was poisoned with cyanide hours after collecting on a $1 million scratch-and-win prize. And a Florida woman was convicted of murdering a man who publicly won a $30 million jackpot in 2006; she befriended him, killed him, buried him in her yard and then took control of his assets.
The lucky bear
Chinese mega-lottery winners have to endure a live televised broadcast of their win.
But unlike shy Canadians, they can hide behind costumes. That's led to a series of bizarre cheque acceptance ceremonies involving a Panda, Mickey Mouse and a giant yellow bear.
The cute factor may not be as high, but several Massachusetts lottery winners have also managed to obscure their identities by sending lawyers and accountants to accept prizes on behalf of hastily drawn up legal trusts.
Fairclough doubts that would be possible in B.C.
"When someone does purchase a ticket, it's an actual individual that purchases the ticket," he says. "An actual ticket holder must come forward to ensure that they are the legal rightful holder of that ticket before we'll pay it out."
Schley says she doesn't ultimately have a problem with the publicity.
"It's just something you have to learn and learn how to deal with anyway," she says. "People are going to find out anyway."
And even had she dressed as a giant yellow bear, it's doubtful Schley could have kept the win secret in her community — Clearwater has a population of just over 2,300.
But she says her neighbours were never the problem.