Under the theme of protecting lottery winners from harassment and being targeted for crime, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and state Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, are proposing legislation to allow winners to remain anonymous.
That’s a bad idea.
It flies in the face of Wisconsin’s tradition of openness in government and the state Department of Revenue’s policies that the lottery should be operated on the basis that more transparency is better.
This bill is an open invitation to corruption.
Just look at the case of the Tipton brothers, Eddie and Tommy, who masterminded the biggest lottery scam in U.S. history — a scam that netted them $2 million in rigged winnings from five state lotteries — including Wisconsin.
Eddie Tipton is a former IT security chief for the Multi-State Lottery Association in Urbandale, Iowa. In 2005 he devised a rogue computer code used on several state lottery systems that allowed him to predict the so-called random computer draws in games played in multiple states. Tipton gave winning numbers to his brother, Tommy, and another associate over the course of several years.
The scheme went undetected until they went for a big score in 2010 — a $16.5 million Hot Lotto ticket that Eddie bought at a Des Moines convenience store. But Iowa law, like Wisconsin’s, requires lottery winners to be named.
The Tipton brothers sat on their winning ticket for almost a year and with the ticket set to expire in hours in late 2011 they tried to cash in anonymously using a New York lawyer and a bogus trust set up in Belize.
Iowa lottery officials rejected the claim and started an investigation. Imagine their surprise when they checked the convenience store’s video footage and saw their IT chief buying the Hot Lotto ticket.
Two years ago, Eddie was sentenced to 25 years in prison; Tommy spent 75 days in jail. They were also ordered to pay $2.2 million in restitution to Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. The Des Moines Register reported last year the brothers own almost $2 million in Texas property, but states have been slow to collect on the restitution debts.
Eddie Tipton was ordered to repay Wisconsin $409,600. According to the newspaper last month, he has thus far paid $198.12 of that.
Had it not been for the required public naming of lottery winners in Iowa, the Tipton brothers would likely have collected quietly and anonymously on that $16.5 million ticket and would likely still be running their scheme today.
That’s not a path Wisconsin should take. Anonymity, secrecy and corruption go hand in hand. Lottery winners here don’t have to do press conferences or talk to the media, their relatives or anyone else about their good fortune — but they should be identified publicly to keep the lottery operation honest and aboveboard.