Barry Saunders

Naming lottery winners helps keep us honest

A big illuminated sign shows the latest jackpots for the N.C. Education Lottery at C Mini Mart on Poole Road in Raleigh on Monday. This store is one of the top sellers of lottery tickets in the area. There currently is discussion in the N.C. House as to whether lottery winners should be allowed to remain anonymous.
A big illuminated sign shows the latest jackpots for the N.C. Education Lottery at C Mini Mart on Poole Road in Raleigh on Monday. This store is one of the top sellers of lottery tickets in the area. There currently is discussion in the N.C. House as to whether lottery winners should be allowed to remain anonymous. cseward@newsobserver.com

“Sunlight,” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “is ... the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Halleluyer!

Legislators need to consider that bon mot before passing a bill allowing the identity of N.C. Education Lottery winners to remain hidden from the public.

There already exists deep distrust of government: the last thing we need is for the Powerball winner’s identity to remain hidden.

State Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, who proposed the bill, lamented that winners are being used to promote the lottery. Of course they are. Who else are they going to use – the losers?

Nobody will be inspired to plunk down their moolah if they show me standing there, frowning, with a fistful of losing tickets.

If, however, you show a pretty 26-year-old woman holding a giant check for $188 million – as happened last month in North Carolina – everybody who sees it is going to picture himself or herself standing there in her place.

Not only does publicizing the winners encourage others to play, but not publicizing them makes it a certainty that fewer people will play.

As is the case with all of our selfless elected public servants, Jackson is only looking out for the best interests of others. The fact that his daddy hit the jackpot for a million bucks in 2007 is purely coincidental.

Once, at the late, deeply lamented Brothers III un-gentlemen’s club, the same patron won the jug of money two nights in a row. As the deejay patiently explained each night, any contest involving money had to be a game of knowledge or skill, so if the ticket you bought was pulled, you had to answer a very difficult question – typical: What color is a blue car? – or be able to drop a coin in the jar on the stage within 30 seconds.

There was suspicion at the dreadlocked dude’s good fortune, but the fact that it was public allayed most people’s fear of a fix. Besides, it was Bubblicious’s first night back after her getting saved didn’t take, so nobody was all that concerned over the money because they would have spent it before leaving, anyway.

Imagine, though, the level of suspicion with which his consecutive wins would have been met had the antiseptic power of lights not shone brightly. Of course, during the drawing was the only time the lights there shone brightly.

Van Denton, a lottery spokesman, agreed with Justice Brandeis and with Ben, beloved owner of the even more beloved Brothers III.

“We think government works best,” Denton said, “when it works openly and transparently.

“If you play the lottery and you’re spending $2, $5 or $20, we think you deserve to know who are the winners of the prize you were competing for. ... The awareness that real people – a waitress, a retired banker – are the winners is important.”

Jackson, the bill’s sponsor, expressed fear that identifying lottery winners subjected them to scam artists trying to separate them from their winnings. He said that after his father won $1 million, he “got calls from solicitors for months” afterward.

Hell, I’ve never won anything and I get calls from solicitors every night.

Denton said, “For the fiscal year from July through June 2014, we’ve awarded $1 million or more 45 times. None of those folks have called back and said they were subjected to harassment because” they won a bundle.

Of course they got a lot of attention, but that would’ve happened even had their names not been made public.

Want to know how you’ll know my number hit?

When you see the mailman deliver that Z.Z. Hill boxed set of albums I’ve been pining for for 10 years but couldn’t quite pull the trigger on because the shipping and handling cost was too high. You’ll also know my first cousin’s second wife’s boyfriend’s birthday was the winning number when you see the O’Jays performing “Love Train” in my front yard as I gnaw on the succulent bones of contentment – pig’s feet.

How can you tell when your neighbor’s lucky number hits? When you hear Sweet Thang, gazing out the front window, say, “My, but the Johnson’s double-wide is looking particularly fetching these days. Are those new pink flamingos in their front yard?”

There is no disputing that people who hit big are going to be inundated with fake friends and faker family members they’ve never met once they appear on TV holding that big check.

Take my dear, sweet cousin. You know, the one who just hit for $188 million in the Powerball. I plan to call her – just to say “hey” and to tell her about a can’t-miss investment scheme. I mean plan.

First, though: Does anyone remember her name?

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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