Winning the lottery shouldn’t make someone a target

Most of us have dreams of hitting the jackpot, quitting our day jobs and pursuing our dreams without worrying about how in the world we’re going to be able to pay for it. We dream of big houses with even bigger swimming pools. We dream of taking our families on extravagant vacations with luxurious hotels or cruise ships containing an army of employees to cater to our every whim.

Those dreams don’t carry the fine print that your circle of friends is going to be overrun by looky-loos and opportunists who look at you through emerald-colored glasses. When folks purchase a lottery ticket, they see the potential win as money for them, not necessarily for everyone else, and once the lottery officials announce who the winner is, the schmoozing, stalking and harassment begins.

Our own Rep. Gary Tauchen has teamed up with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on a bill that would allow lottery winners to remain anonymous, whereas current law says folks who hit the jackpot can’t do so under the cloak of darkness. Tauchen and Vos introduced the bill about 40 minutes after state lottery officials announced that Manuel Franco, a 24-year-old from West Allis, found his net worth had a substantial number of zeroes added to it.

It’s a terrific idea. It would have been a better idea if it had come up before the winner of one of the biggest Powerball jackpots turned out to be someone in Wisconsin.

I imagine folks in West Allis must be thrilled beyond belief. Nonprofit directors must be foaming at the mouth at the possibility that the newest multi-millionaire is in their backyard, and if they put on their best dog and pony show, perhaps Franco will toss a million or two their way. After all, what else is he going to do with all that money?

In my opinion, it’s none of our business. If he wants to build a big old mansion, let him. If he wants to buy a jet and fly all around the world, I say enjoy the friendly skies. If he wants to buy a big chunk of land and put all the money into a kitten rescue farm, that would be meow-velous. That’s his prerogative, and none of us are above letting a man enjoy his pursuit of happiness without trying to finagle a piece of that pie.

Right now, only a few states allow you to take the money and run without fanfare, if that’s what you choose. If Tauchen’s bill passes, Wisconsin would join Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas. The other states require the disclosure of the winner’s identity; New Hampshire even considers such information as part of the state’s “Right to Know” law.

There’s a right to know where your property tax dollars are going, but when it comes to giving a huge prize to someone, society has left its manners and morals behind in the pursuit of finding out who that person is. A Washington Post story from 2017 told about how local police made sure to have police watching the house of Mavis Wanczyk after she won more than $750 million, due to people hanging around Wanczyk’s neighborhood, knocking on doors and harassing neighbors to find out where she lives.

That same story also touched on a literal Shakespearean tragedy. Abraham Shakespeare won $30 million from the lottery in 2006, and two years later, a woman approached him and claimed she was writing a book about the people taking advantage of him. The woman then became his financial adviser and siphoned away the money.

The story also talked about a man named Craigory Burch who won a Fantasy 5 jackpot of $434,272 in Georgia. Two months later, Burch was dead because seven masked men kicked in his front door and killed him, even though he offered to give the men his bank card. Family members said the public announcement of Burch’s good fortune was the reason he was targeted.

So, who still wants to run out and buy a lottery ticket? It certainly gives me pause that the side effects of being a multi-millionaire are harassment, fraud and possible death. Obviously, the first thing you’d have to do before going to the lottery office is hire a bodyguard, and even then, you’d have to do an exhaustive background check to make sure that person won’t bamboozle you or put a pillow over your face to suffocate you.

We all have dreams of striking it big. Whether it’s making that one key business deal, selling a bestselling novel or plunking down $2 for a lottery ticket, we all want to find the path to having an easy life. That easy life should also include little to no harassment from those who want to take the lazy way out of their own miserable lives. That’s why it’s better that we don’t know who is rolling in dough.

The Assembly should definitely approve Tauchen’s bill as quickly as possible before Wisconsin has another neighbor hit the jackpot. It’s just too bad that the representative’s actions have come too late for Mr. Franco.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.