$50M can’t buy anonymity for B.C. lottery winner

Picking numbers on a lottery ticket. - iStockphoto, courtesy Getty Images

Would you be willing to trade your anonymity for $50 million?

That’s the quandary facing a B.C. lottery winner who wants his or her Lotto Max jackpot, but isn’t willing to accept the mandatory publicity that comes with it.

Every provincial lottery corporation in Canada requires winners to participate in a photo shoot that trumpets their win. You’ve seen them: a newly-minted millionaire with an awkward smile and giant cheque, clearly showing their name.

The lottery corporations do it largely for transparency reasons. It proves that people are really winning the prizes, and that the winners aren’t corporation employees or merchants who sell the tickets. Winners who won’t participate don’t get their prizes.

The publicity comes with a price, though. Once a winner’s name and hometown hit the news, it doesn’t take long for scammers, gold-diggers, fairweather friends, and other handout-seekers to come calling.

Or worse. It’s not uncommon for death threats to come rolling in as well. In 2007, Montreal police thwarted a plot to kill a couple that won $27 million.

South of the border, several winners have ended up murder victims. In 2013, Chicagoan Urooj Khan died of cyanide poisoning the day after collecting his novelty cheque. In 2006, a Florida woman was convicted of murder after she conveniently befriended  $30-million-winner Abraham Shakespeare, killed him and seized his assets.

Given those concerns, other jurisdictions allow winner anonymity. Six U.S. states allow winners to conceal their identity. In China, lax privacy demands have led to hilarious ceremonies with winners wearing bear costumes or various creepy masks while holding their cheques.

Given that, some lotto corporations have very specific publicity rules. Loto-Quebec, which previously kept winner identities under wraps, now insists that a winner’s face must be uncovered in photo shoots and that they refrain from “overt theatrics.”

There have been some exceptions though (not to the “theatrics,” just the publicity). In 2008, the Western Canada Lottery Corp., allowed a Winnipeg winner to remain anonymous citing security concerns. The WCLC later said it would protect identities if winners could show there was a “legitimate threat against them,” such as prison guards or undercover cops.

The B.C. Lottery Corp. says it will make similar rare exceptions, but there’s no indication that this $50-million winner has any motive besides bashfulness. So, barring any legal challenge to BCLC’s regulations, it seems this mystery winner must choose between being publicly rich or privately poorer.

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