ZEBULON — In this corner of northeastern Wake, Homer Buffaloe is a legend.
Twice, this local tobacco farmer has won the Carolina Cash 5 lottery jackpot with a ticket he bought from the One Stop Shop on Mitchell Mill Road. Rami Nasa, owner of the convenience store, laughs when he thinks about it. Nasa says he sees Buffaloe almost every day, and says the local farmer’s fame has helped his business.
“It definitely helps,” Nasa said. “He’s proof this is a lucky place.”
A recently-introduced bill would bar the North Carolina Education Lottery from publicizing the name and hometown of lottery winners. Darren Jackson, Zebulon’s representative in the state House, cosponsored HB 516 because he sees Buffaloe’s fame as a problem.
“We were sitting in committee talking about how criminals could use public record to target gun owners,” Jackson said. “I thought, they can also use it to target lottery winners.”
The N.C. Education Lottery publishes each jackpot winner’s name, hometown, game played, total winnings, and the date the winner collected turned in his ticket.
Lottery disclosure laws vary across the country, says David Gale, director of the National Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. NASPL doesn’t keep records of each state’s lottery laws, “but more and more states are looking at keeping (winner’s names) private,” Gale said.
Like an increasing number of legislators, Jackson and lottery players like Rodney Franklin, of Wake Forest, fear public records laws are infringing on lottery winners’ rights to privacy and safety.
“There are people who might rob you, kill you, (or) kidnap your kids if they know you just won mega-millions,” Franklin said on April 23 after buying a Carolina Cash 5 ticket from the One Stop Shop. “I wouldn’t want my name out there.”
Since the lottery is run by the state government, Van Denton, a spokesman for the N.C. Education Lottery, says the public has a right to know who’s benefitting from public funds. Denton compared lottery funds to tax dollars in stressing the need for transparency in government.
“We support the law the way it is now,” Denton said. “These are public dollars being won. Having public knowledge of who the winners are builds public trust in the lottery.”
Denton pointed out that the N.C. Education Lottery does not require winners to appear at news conferences, in photos, or in advertisements for the lottery, although some winners choose to do so. Those winners, Denton said, acknowledge that news of their jackpot is “likely to get out somehow.”
Local legend Buffaloe wasn’t one of them. A reporter attempted to reach Buffaloe for comment on Jackson’s bill. As in March, when Buffaloe won his second jackpot, phone calls to his home were not returned, and no one answered the door.