Hitting the Jackpot!
On January 5, Shane Missler, a 20 year-old from Port Richey, Fla., was the sole winner of the fourth-largest jackpot in Mega Millions history.
Missler won a stunning $451 million jackpot, which he has chosen to receive in one lump sum. Having won money in a scratch-off lottery ticket, Missler decided to buy a Quick Pick ticket at a 7-Eleven in his town. When asked what he would do with the money, he mentioned he would use it to pursue a variety of passions, help his family, and do some good for humanity.
The recent lottery win probably found many Floridians wondering what they would do if they won. An initial thought might have been to keep the winnings private for as long as possible to avoid those distant family members from coming out of the woodworks. That secrecy might not be so easy. While Florida Statutes require lottery officials to maintain the confidentiality of the street address and the telephone number of lottery winners, this confidential information may still be obtained by formal records requests under Florida’s Sunshine law. Florida is the sunshine state after all. Therefore, if the media makes a records request, the names and city of residence of the lottery winners must be made available.
Are there any other privacy options a lottery winner has under Florida law? The lottery winners’ entitlement to prizes is governed by principles of contract law. By purchasing lottery tickets, the buyers accept an offer by the lottery to give the purchaser a chance to win prize money subject to the lottery’s rules. Florida lottery rules state that tickets expire 180 days from the winning drawing date; so the only other option for limited privacy is to wait to claim the ticket. This option proves to be a tricky one because possession of the ticket is essential to claiming it. The longer a winner waits, the more likely they are to lose the ticket. These legal principles were discussed by the First District Court in Miller v. State, Dept. of Lottery, 638 So.2d 172. In Miller, the court used the application of contract principles and rights to possession to determine whether the person “holding” a winning ticket was entitled to the prize. There is also a legal adage that may come to mind when contemplating this option, “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Or we can take the concept back to the schoolyard: “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” To avoid the disastrous pitfalls of losing the ticket, treat the ticket like a personal check and follow these quick practical tips:
1. Sign your ticket immediately.
2. Store your ticket in a safe place until you are ready to redeem it.
3. Make a copy of your signed ticket and store the copy in a separate location.
4. Contact your lawyer or other trusted advisor for the proper guidance.
Until that time comes when you win the jackpot, have fun playing and best of luck!