Bill to close lottery records fails in committee

Proposed legislation to make the name of lottery winners confidential and not subject to the state’s Open Records Act failed on a 2-4 vote in the Senate State and Local Government committee this morning.

State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, said she brought S.B. 2060 to protect lottery winners who might be harassed or scammed by others trying to get some of their windfall. She said she sought the bill after an issue was raised by a constituent. She said the bill would have allowed lottery winners to “opt in” on whether their name could be disclosed by the lottery.

Wanda Wilson, the general counsel of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp., testified  that the Tennessee lottery currently uses only the names and photographs of winners in their marketing if the winner gives them permission to do so. But the winner’s name and hometown is public record if requested under the state’s Open Records Act, and she said the lottery informs winners of this.

Only 4 of 46 state-run lotteries make the name confidential, she said. Most treat the names of winners as public information.

“We feel this is a better approach That approach promotes trust. It promotes confidence in the lottery among the public and it preserves transparency. Players must be assured that real people are winning,” Wilson said.

Frank Gibson, public policy director for the Tennessee Press Association, told the committee that closing the names of the winners would remove the ability of the media to report on problems such as gambling addictions. “This bill makes it impossible for the media or anybody to hold a billion-dollar quasi-public enterprise accountable for their actions.”

Whit Adamson, president of Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, said that without winner names, the state also could lose some free news coverage, which he said he believes has been a factor in the success of the lottery in the past 10 years.

Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said he thought the bill could have “serious ramifications in the long run if we start concealing this. I’m not sure what left there is to conceal about the whole operation.  But I don’t think any good can come of it.”

“If you don’t want your name plastered all over, then don’t buy a ticket,” Norris said.

The lottery winner’s home and work address, telephone numbers and social security number are already exempt from the Open Records Act. The bill would have added the winner’s name.

Voting for the bill were Bowling and state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro. Voting no were Norris, John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, and Ken Yager, R-Harriman.

–Deborah Fisher, executive director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. Note: Fisher also testified against the bill, pointing out the need for transparency in government operations. Video of the committee meeting can be found here















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