Lottery suddenly vague on winners' information


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The Pennsylvania Lottery was praised in this space in September for making public its list of winners of $1,000 or more.

Newspapers, including The News-Item, used the Lottery's website to obtain the monthly list and publish it.

You may have noticed that, around March, that policy changed and we no longer have the winners in the paper.

The Lottery now provides only a first name and last initial, hometown, amount won and from what game in announcing winners, although those who have won can disclose their stories.

The issue for the Lottery is essentially the privacy of winners. As was noted before, however, the Lottery is administered by the Department of Revenue, a state agency that sees to it that lottery proceeds "benefit older Pennsylvanians every day." It is critical the Department of Revenue remain transparent with its lottery money, which is why daily drawings are audited and involve a witness. It's the reason an annual economic report is produced for the lottery. And it should be the reason a list of identifiable winners is made public.

The lottery website had previously answered the question of, "Can I remain anonymous although I'm a lottery prize winner?" with this:

"Certain winner information is public under the state Lottery Law and Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law. The Pennsylvania Lottery publishes the following information on its website (including) the name of the winner(s), city and county of residence, name of game won, date of win and prize amount.

"The Pennsylvania Lottery must be accountable to the taxpayers and residents who benefit from lottery-funded programs, and transparency of operations is key to the lottery's integrity. Providing winners' information is also important to players who want to see the winners of the games they play."

Apparently, that is no longer of concern.

We haven't been publishing the winners' list since the change to first name-last initial simply because it's not enough information. There could be many people who, for example, fit the description of "Patrick D," as was listed for a Philadelphia winner in March. That person - whoever he is, won $1 million, but unless he tells his story, we won't know anything more.

The Lottery's concerns involve winners being targeted by scams, and their overall security. They also note that the names of winners at casinos, which are also state-related, are not made public. But the casinos are not operated by the state like the Lottery is.

We don't agree with the new policy, but for now we see no value in publishing the first names of winners.

(Andy Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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