PHOENIX - Lottery winners in Arizona would be able to keep their anonymity under a bill approved Wednesday following a contentious hearing in a state Senate committee that pitted the Republican sponsor against Democrats who argued it would diminish public accountability.
The bill passed committee on a 5-2 vote and now goes to the full Senate for consideration after a routine legal review.
The bill by Rep. John Kavanagh was prompted by the public release of a Fountain Hills man's name after he won half of a $587.5 million Powerball jackpot in November. Matthew Good's name was released under Arizona public records laws after he collected the $192 million cash option payout. He's never spoken publically about his good fortune.
Kavanagh said players shouldn't face safety risks just because they're lucky enough to win big.
The bill sailed through the House but ran into opposition in the Senate Commerce, Energy and Military committee Wednesday, including questions from Republicans.
"I don't understand why a lottery winner would be protected and we wouldn't protect other people in similar circumstances," Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, asked, mentioning high-net worth executives as one example.
But Kavanagh said there's a big difference, noting the lottery winners are generally private people who don't seek the limelight.
Kavanagh said Good approached him in Fountain Hills after the bill passed a House committee last month and thanked him for carrying the bill.
"He also said he hasn't had a good night's rest since he won the money because he was so fearful," Kavanagh told the committee.
The bill is opposed by the Arizona Republic, with attorney David Bodney testifying it was well intentioned but flawed.
"It can't be a success without accountability," Bodney said of the Arizona Lottery. "There can be no transparency and accountability if the names of the winners are confidential."
Most states require winners' names to be disclosed in some way. Of 44 states participating in Powerball and 33 in Mega-Millions, only Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota and Ohio allow blanket anonymity.
Some states require an appearance at a press conference. Others, including Arizona, don't require winners to appear in public, but their names can be obtained through public records laws.
The bill isn't opposed by the Arizona Lottery, but other lotteries argue they need the publicity to help sell tickets and that releasing winners' names lets the public know the games aren't fixed.
Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, sparred with Kavanagh, questioning him about whether there could be accountability if winners were anonymous.
"They're now taking away transparency, and that's my concern," Gallardo said.
Kavanagh said there's plenty of checks and balances in the Lottery system without outing big winners.
"Ultimately what's we're balancing here is the individual right to privacy and the public's right to know," Kavanagh said. But he said in this case there's no reason to release the names.
"The only reason to disclose the name is idle curiosity," he said.