Odds improve for lottery winner anonymity as Senate bill nears floor vote

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'These winners endure all types of scams, harassment and even loss of life.'

A bill that would shield lottery winners in Florida from having their names revealed to the public for three months is now one legislative hurdle from reaching a full vote in the Senate.

Members of the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee gave a unanimous thumbs-up Wednesday to the bill (SB 170) by Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky of Boca Raton that would create a public-records exemption for the names of people who win lottery prizes of $250,000 or more.

Under the proposed change, big-pot lotto winners would be able to keep their names private for 90 days from the day they claim their winnings. If they choose to do so, they could still waive confidentiality.

Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis, who is carrying the House twin of the bill (HB 159), said the $250,000 limit came at the recommendation of Florida Lottery Secretary John Davis.

“The reason behind the 90 days,” Polsky said Wednesday, “is to give a lottery winner sufficient time to plan responsibly by notifying family, obtaining financial advice and even getting the funds into investments. It will also provide time for the winner to put security measures in place while ultimately disclosing the information to the public.”

The bill is a sequel to an identical measure Polsky and Davis filed last Legislative Session. The House passed Davis’ bill 117-1, but Polsky’s version stalled in committee and failed to make it to the Senate floor.

Last Session, the First Amendment Foundation said of the legislation: “This exemption thoughtfully and properly balances the privacy concerns of lottery winners and the public’s right to know.”

Davis’ bill already has cleared the two committees it was referred to this Session and is ready for the House floor. Polsky’s measure has passed through two and awaits a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee.

Because the legislation would create a new public record exemption, both bills require a two-thirds vote among members present in each chamber to pass. The proposal would take effect immediately after becoming law, but unless lawmakers move to extend the legislation, it would sunset in October 2027.

Florida law already keeps the addresses and phone numbers of lottery winners private, but their names are currently made public to show the winners are legitimate.

Speaking for her bill earlier this month, Davis read news stories of lottery winners who were killed after claiming their prizes.

In one of the more well-known cases, Lakeland man Abraham Shakespeare won a $30 million lottery. Three years later, in 2006, he was murdered by a person who befriended him after his win.

“These winners endure all types of scams, harassment and even loss of life,” Polsky said. “We all dream of winning a big lottery prize. Unfortunately for some people, the dream becomes a nightmare.”

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Renzo Downey of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.



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