Rubin: I’ll wait to cash my Powerball check – quietly

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Assuming I won the Powerball jackpot last night — and heck, I had the same infinitesimal chance as anybody else — I think I’ll wait a few months to cash the check.

Not that I wouldn’t sell my privacy for $500 million. But I shouldn’t have to, and if the legislature passes a bill that’s halfway to the finish line, the state of Michigan won’t be able to force me to.

As of now, the identities of big winners are public record. Even if you don’t agree to pose for photos with one of those goofy oversized checks, your name is revealed to every shirttail relative, con artist, insurance salesman and ex-roommate’s former girlfriend on the planet.

It’s intrusive, it’s awkward, and it’s potentially dangerous. Would you want a cagey criminal — or worse yet, a stupid one — to know that you’d just pocketed a lump-sum, after-tax payment of $215,730,000?

“When I did some background on it,” says Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, “the history of big winners is pretty sad.”

Divorces. Bankruptcies. The occasional murder.

It’s a risk most of us will cheerfully take. But there’s no reason the state should make things harder when easy street already comes with bumps and potholes.

On the one hand, there’s the learning curve that comes with sudden wealth. The other hand is extended in your direction, attached to somebody who wants a loan or a house or an investment in a new line of foam rubber bowling balls. C’mon, it’s not like you’ll miss the money.

“It can ruin lives as well as improve them,” Franz says — which is why he introduced HB 4433 last spring.

The bill would give lottery winners the option of anonymity. The Lottery Commission doesn’t like it, for reasons Franz doesn’t buy and the Michigan House didn’t either; it passed in May by a vote of 103 to 7.

Now it’s in the hands of the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee, where according to Franz, chairman Tony Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, has a history of supporting similar notions.

Franz said he’s optimistic that the bill will pass this winter.

Ticket-buyers are optimistic, too. Otherwise we’d spend our $1 or $2 on something with a more certain payoff, like those little bags of candy orange slices near the cash register at the gas station.

So hurry, senators. If Wednesday wasn’t our night, there’s always Friday: the Mega Millions jackpot is up to $165 million.

Protecting privacy

I talked to a spokesman for the Lottery Commission shortly after Franz’s bill cruised through the House.

The spokesman said it’s important to announce winners’ names because they’re receiving public money, and because otherwise, conspiracy theorists might think the money wasn’t really paid out.

For Franz, placating loons is not reason enough to violate people’s privacy.

“They want the names for merchandising,” he says. “Let’s be honest.”

The theory is that the sight of winners makes frenzied players buy more tickets.

The president of the North American Lottery Association, whose name is actually Terry Rich, was at least honest about it. “When we have a big winner we sell more,” he told the Daily Beast. “If you are a winner and don’t want the public to know, don’t play.”

Other states do it..

But Franz says his research shows that states like Ohio, which offers anonymity, have comparable per capita sales to Michigan. When jackpots get huge in interstate games, “the sheer number will bring people out.”

Winners of Michigan-based games like Lotto 47 and Fantasy 5 can already decline to have their names released. With multi-state games like Powerball, Mega Millions and Lucky for Life, state law says the names of all winners of $601 or more are available for perusal.

In Michigan, winners have a year to collect their money. Franz’s bill is written to take effect immediately, so if the Senate and the governor follow the lead of the house, this week’s winners can become 2016’s beneficiaries.

Me, I’m patient by nature, and I can’t see why I should have to shill for the state lottery to collect $500 million I’ve already won.

They might be able to pay me to star in a commercial, but fair warning: I won’t come cheap.