LANSING, MI — Imagine you’ve just won a near record-setting jackpot like the $825 million Powerball prize that’s up for grabs Saturday night. There might be tears, there might be yelling and screaming, there might even be a few phone calls to trusted friends and family to share the good news.
But then it hits you that everyone you know — not just those you trust — is now going to know you have a fortune at your disposal. Long lost cousins, your 10th grade boyfriend, an old co-worker, basically anyone who knows you might soon be reaching out “just to see how you’re doing.”
It can be a scary thought becoming a publicly known figure overnight, especially if there’s no legal way for you to keep your identity hidden. Luckily for players in Michigan, there is a way to get around identification laws without having to put too much work into it.
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While some states allow winners to keep their identity secret, in Michigan, state law requires the identity of multi-state lottery jackpot winners– such as Mega Millions and Powerball — to be made public. The law also does not allow a trust or other legal representation to claim the prize in order to keep the winner’s name a secret. Winners of in-state draw game jackpots — such as Lotto 47 and Fantasy 5 — do not have to publicly identified themselves in order to claim their prize.
However, if you belong to a registered lottery club, only one member of the club needs to come forward and be the public-facing person representing the group. They can claim the prize on behalf of everyone involved and none of the identities beside the representative’s will become public.
That’s what the Wolverine FLL lottery club did last year when it won the $1.05 billion Mega Millions jackpot. The club nominated Florida-based lawyer Kurt D. Panouses, esq. to represent the group and handle any public requirements for the members. Prior to Panouses claiming the jackpot for the group, Michigan Lottery officials sought Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s opinion on the matter.
“It’s something that we consulted with the Attorney General’s office on,” said Lottery spokesperson Jake Harris in March 2021. “They came back and said this is lawful and within the rules. It’s something that was vetted.”
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In order to form a lottery club, members must notify the Lottery about their plans to create a club, confirm the members of the group and establish a name. After the Lottery approves the group, the club can begin claiming prizes on behalf of all of the members. Lottery clubs in Michigan can have as few as two members and there are no requirements that prize money must be distributed equally amongst members.
One of the other benefits of using a lottery club to claim a jackpot is that a club can be formed after the jackpot was won. If a club already exists, it can also add members at any time who can represent the group. So if you were to win tonight’s jackpot, you could form a club next week, hire a legal representative, add them to your club and have that person claim your jackpot and your identity would not be public record.
If a club were to hire a lawyer to represent the group, the club is able to determine how much the lawyer gets from the winnings and the rest of the money can be split by the remaining member amongst themselves however they see fit. Clubs may also establish a set of formal rules and regulations that dictate how prize money will be distributed in order to avoid conflicts of how much each person is entitled to and help settle any potential legal issues.
The state will also take out any taxes owed on the winnings before distributing the money to the club. If any of the members have liabilities owed to the state — such as back taxes or other owed payments — those liabilities will also be taken out of the prize money total by the state.
For the latest on Michigan Lottery, check out the official Michigan Lottery site, which also offers more information on instant tickets, raffles and other lottery games.
The last players from Michigan to win a Mega Millions or Powerball jackpot is the Wolverine FLL lottery club which claimed a $1.05 billion jackpot in March 2021. With their winnings, the group plans to give back to the community.
And while they were lucky winners, it’s smart for players to check their tickets immediately as a winner worth $1 million sold in Warren last year went unclaimed. The money instead went to the state’s School Aid Fund.