The Florida Lottery should check to see if winners have legal guardians before handing over prize money. State law already requires winners to pay outstanding debts to state agencies before they can pocket the cash they won. Legislators should strengthen the law to include a screening that helps protect the lottery's most vulnerable winners.
St. Petersburg's Malcolm Ramsey scratched his way to a $302,446 prize in October. After determining he had no state debts, lottery officials wired the money to his bank account. A simple query on the Pinellas County Clerk of Court's website would have revealed that Ramsey, 55, with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, has a legal guardian who pays his bills and monitors his care. Had his guardian been notified, Ramsey might have received sound financial advice. Instead, more than half of his money is gone — spent on family and friends — and he stands to lose government benefits that cover his rent and food because he received a lump sum payout.
The same state law that requires some level of competency to play the lottery — minors, for example, can't take part — should protect the unstable. Amscot Financial, which cashed Ramsey's check, provided an encouraging footnote this week to Ramsey's plight. After learning of his situation, the company agreed to return the $14,000 it charged him in fees because it was "the right thing to do." The Legislature should step up, too, and require lottery officials to check public records to verify winners are competent. Anything less leaves the incompetent and vulnerable open to exploitation. It's a common sense fix, and the Legislature should make the change.