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'Their whole life changes': How lottery winners seek privacy amidst Wisconsin's disclosure law

Posted at 10:50 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 08:33:32-05

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (NBC 26) — When someone hits the jackpot, all of a sudden, there's a chance they can afford almost anything.


"It's not often that this happens, even though it's been four times in the last less than four years here in Wisconsin," Wisconsin Lottery Director Cindy Polzin said. "You don't lose that excitement. It's just awesome."

Some states allow people to claim their lottery prize anonymously. But Wisconsin is not one of them.

Kurt Panouses is an attorney who's represented over 35 winners.

"It just so happens they got six numbers one day and their whole life changes and they didn't anticipate that big of a change," he said.

Panouses helps clients go off the grid.

Before winners pick up the money, he advises them to rent a car. That's so anyone watching the driver at the lottery office can't get their license plate number.

"I know it's gonna be difficult for the families," Panouses said. "It's gonna be difficult for this person, their spouse, their children to go to college, to go to school. Everyone's gonna be talking about them."

And then it's time to start using private jets to travel and even hire on-call doctors for medical care. That's to limit chances to be recognized in public.

"We get all brand new phones for them," Panouses said. "So that if someone finds out it might be them, we don't want them to keep calling them on their phone. We want them to have a separate phone that they can communicate with their family members."

Panouses says lottery winners shouldn't just use a local bank. Instead, they should use a large entity that specializes in privacy.

"You don't want to go to see your branch where you see the people in the branch every day at the grocery store, at the sporting goods store, at the restaurant," he said.

Powerball winning numbers

The attorney tells people they might not want to live in the same home. But they shouldn't sell their residence right away. And when they buy a new one, Panouses sets up a land trust instead.

"No one knows who owns this land," he said. "So you build this big house on the ocean. No one knows who owns it because it shows that a bank is the trustee for someone."

When winners hit the right numbers, there are ways to stay as anonymous as possible. Panouses says it can be common sense if you have the right help.

"Yes, it's a privilege," he said. "But they have the money for it. I always tell them if you don't spend it, your kids will. So you might as well enjoy your life."