The Iowa Lottery will propose some updates in state law to clear up what constitutes a winning ticket — and to increase the penalty for those who try to hide their winnings to avoid state debt.

Lottery Vice President, Mary Neubauer, says they want to clarify the language about winners. “The new subsection that we are adding to the code in that area says that we will pay prizes only for those tickets that have been legally purchase, legally possessed, and legally presented,” Neubauer explains.

She says that’s always been the case — but you had to look in several sections of the code to find the answer. “Some prosecutors and local law enforcement who have worked on criminal cases involving lottery tickets have said it would be helpful if the code were more clear and concise in that area. And so, we believe that this new subsection will achieve that. Let’s just make it as clear and concise as possible,” Neubauer says.

Another proposed change involves the state’s offset program which uses lottery winnings to offset the winner’s state debt. “At the lottery, if you win a prize, there is an automatic check of the income offset database of the income offset database when you come in to collect the prize,” according to Neubauer. “And that debt is automatically taken out before we issue a check to the winner.”

Neubauer says winners who know about the program may try to get around it.  “For example, they might give the ticket to a friend and have the friend come in to claim a prize rather than the original person being the one to claim a prize. And section three of the bill would have the penalties involved for that apply to both the person who would be passing the ticket to a friend — as well as the friend,” Neubauer says. She says both people are lying about who won the ticket and both should be penalized.

Neubauer says there are thousands of dollars collected each year from lottery winnings to cover state debts. “Over the last five years that total has ranged anywhere from $312,000 all the way up to $500,000 in a given year that is recouped,” Neubauer says. Neubauer says the best-laid plans of winners trying to keep all the cash have sometimes backfired.

“In a couple of instances people who owed offsets gave a ticket to a friend to claim the prize — not know that the friend had an even bigger offset than they did,” Neubauer says. “And in the end, the friend claimed the prize and their offset took the entire prize — so that person who had initially given them the ticket received no money and the friend’s offset was wiped out.”

Neubauer says they will propose the changes in the upcoming legislative session in January.