Bill would scratch lottery winners from public record

aspecht@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2013 

— In this corner of northeastern Wake, Homer Buffaloe is a legend.

Twice this tobacco farmer has won the Carolina Cash 5 lottery jackpot with a ticket he bought from the One Stop Shop on Mitchell Mill Road. Rami Nasa, owner of the convenience store, says he sees Buffaloe almost every day, and says the local farmer’s fame has helped his business.

“He’s proof this is a lucky place,” Nasa said.

A recently-introduced bill would bar the N.C. Education Lottery from publicizing the name and hometown of lottery winners such as Buffaloe. Darren Jackson, Zebulon’s representative in the state House, co-sponsored HB 516 because he sees Buffaloe’s fame as a problem.

“We were sitting in committee talking about how criminals could use public record to target gun owners,” Jackson said. “I thought, they can also use it to target lottery winners.”

The N.C. Education Lottery publishes each jackpot winner’s name, hometown, game played, total winnings, and the date the winner turned in his ticket.

Lottery disclosure laws vary across the country, says David Gale, director of the National Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. NASPL doesn’t keep records of each state’s lottery laws, but Gale said a growing number of states are looking at keeping winner’s names private.

Like an increasing number of legislators, Jackson and lottery players such as Rodney Franklin of Wake Forest fear public records laws are infringing on lottery winners’ rights to privacy and safety.

“There are people who might rob you, kill you, (or) kidnap your kids if they know you just won mega-millions,” Franklin said recently after buying a Carolina Cash 5 ticket from the One Stop Shop. “I wouldn’t want my name out there.”

Since the lottery is run by the state government, says N.C. Education Lottery spokesman Van Denton, the public has a right to know who’s benefitting from public funds. Denton compared lottery funds to tax dollars in stressing the need for transparency in government.

“We support the law the way it is now,” Denton said. “These are public dollars being won. Having public knowledge of who the winners are builds public trust in the lottery.”

Denton pointed out that the N.C. Education Lottery does not require winners to appear at news conferences, in photos, or in advertisements for the lottery, although some choose to do so. Those winners, Denton said, acknowledge that news of their jackpot is “likely to get out somehow.”

Local legend Buffaloe wasn’t available to comment on Jackson’s bill. As in March when Buffaloe won his second jackpot, phone calls to his home were not returned, and no one answered the door.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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