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Can undocumented win Mega Millions?

Winning the lottery is a dream for many, but for undocumented immigrants in the United States, collecting lottery prizes presents unique challenges. Mega Millions is one of the biggest multi-state lottery games in the U.S., with jackpots frequently surpassing $100 million. But can undocumented immigrants actually win and claim Mega Millions prizes if they were to hit the jackpot?

The short answer is yes, it is possible for undocumented immigrants to win and claim Mega Millions prizes. However, there are important caveats and risks that undocumented lottery winners would need to consider.

Can Undocumented Immigrants Legally Play Mega Millions?

There is no federal law prohibiting undocumented immigrants from purchasing lottery tickets or winning lottery prizes. The Mega Millions consortium does not require citizenship or proof of legal residency to play the game. Lottery officials do not routinely check immigration status when selling tickets or awarding prizes.

However, some individual states do have laws restricting undocumented immigrants from playing state-sponsored lottery games. States with such restrictions include Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina. In these states, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from purchasing Mega Millions tickets and would be denied prizes if they somehow obtained tickets. But in the majority of Mega Millions states, there are no citizenship/residency requirements to play.

Tax Withholding on Lottery Winnings

One complication for undocumented immigrants winning sizeable Mega Millions prizes is tax withholding. Federal tax law requires that a 24% tax be immediately withheld from lottery prizes over $5,000. Additional state taxes may also be withheld, depending on the state.

For U.S. citizens and documented immigrants, this tax withholding would simply count toward the taxes they would owe on the income when filing their returns. But for undocumented immigrants, this immediate 24% withholding could make claiming a prize difficult without a Social Security number and tax filing status.

Anonymity Concerns

For undocumented lottery winners, coming forward to claim prizes also raises concerns over deportation risks. Lottery winners’ names and hometowns are often publicized by the lottery commissions. By claiming a jackpot prize, an undocumented immigrant could be putting themselves at risk of identification and detection by immigration authorities.

However, lottery commissions will permit anonymity in certain circumstances. Some states allow trusts to claim lottery prizes while keeping the beneficiary anonymous. Lotteries also sometimes permit anonymity for winners who have specific security concerns. But policies and requirements vary by state.

Claiming Mega Millions Prizes as an Undocumented Immigrant

While winning Mega Millions as an undocumented immigrant involves challenges, it is possible to claim lottery prizes while minimizing risks. Here are some options:

Claim Through a Lawyer or Representative

Undocumented immigrants can have a lawyer or authorized representative make the claim on their behalf. The lottery will issue payment to the law firm or representative, who can then transfer the money to the real winner while maintaining anonymity. This avoids the winner’s name becoming public.

Form an Anonymous Trust

Where permitted, undocumented winners can claim prizes through anonymous trusts. The lottery pays the trust directly, and the trustee manages and distributes the funds to the beneficiaries in private. Some states explicitly permit this trust arrangement for lottery winners.

Claim Under a Taxpayer ID Number

Instead of a Social Security number, prizes can be claimed using a taxpayer identification number (ITIN). ITINs are issued by the IRS for tax purposes to individuals not eligible for Social Security numbers. With an ITIN, taxes can still be withheld and paid on lottery winnings claimed by undocumented immigrants.

Negotiate Anonymity with Lottery Commission

For supersized jackpots, undocumented winners may be able to negotiate anonymity by speaking directly with lottery officials. Citing security concerns, they may agree to permit a pseudonym or blind trust to claim the prize. However, policies vary greatly by state.

Consult an Immigration Attorney

Before claiming any substantial lottery prize, undocumented winners should first consult an attorney versed in both immigration and lottery law. They can provide guidance tailored to the individual’s situation and jurisdiction to best protect anonymity and minimize risks.

Tax Obligations on Mega Millions Winnings for Undocumented Immigrants

Undocumented immigrants are required to pay taxes on any gambling winnings in the U.S., including lottery prizes. Here is an overview of the tax obligations:

Federal Income Taxes

The IRS requires 24% in federal tax withholding on all lottery prizes exceeding $5,000. This applies to all winners regardless of citizenship or residency status. Undocumented immigrants would have this tax withheld just like other winners.

State Income Taxes

States also tax lottery winnings, with rates varying from 2% to 8% depending on the state. State tax is withheld immediately for prizes over certain thresholds. Undocumented immigrants must pay applicable state taxes on winnings just like other residents.

Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

Without a Social Security number, undocumented immigrants would need an ITIN to pay taxes on lottery winnings. ITINs are issued by the IRS and allow individuals to file tax returns and remit taxes. Winnings can be reported and taxes paid using an ITIN.

No Tax Refunds

While undocumented immigrants are obligated to pay taxes on gambling winnings, they are not eligible for tax refunds. So the tax withholding on a lottery prize would be lost revenue for an undocumented winner.

Offshore Bank Accounts

Some undocumented winners try diverting winnings to offshore bank accounts to avoid taxes. But this is illegal and can result in civil or criminal penalties if discovered. Taxes are still owed regardless of where prizes are deposited.

Consult a Tax Professional

Navigating tax obligations can be challenging for undocumented lottery winners. Consulting with a tax professional or attorney experienced in gaming winnings can help ensure compliance and minimize risks.

Mega Millions Winnings Impact on Immigration Status

Claiming a lucrative Mega Millions prize could have consequences for an undocumented immigrant seeking to normalize their status in the future. Some key implications include:

Ineligibility for Citizenship

Undocumented immigrants cannot use lottery winnings to apply for citizenship through investment/entrepreneur immigrant visas. These require lawful immigration status first. Lottery winnings alone do not enable undocumented immigrants to obtain lawful permanent residency.

Income Scrutiny in Applications

When applying for immigration benefits like DACA, undocumented immigrants must prove they are not primarily dependent on gambling. Large lottery winnings could increase scrutiny and risk denial if authorities think it’s the main income source.

Public Charge Rule Considerations

Winning the lottery may classify an undocumented immigrant as a “public charge” under immigration law. Public charges can be denied residency and visas. Mitigating factors like education, assets, and family may be needed to overcome a lottery windfall.

Removal Proceedings Risk

Claiming a high-profile lottery prize puts an undocumented immigrant at risk of entering removal proceedings if identified by immigration enforcement. However, winning the lottery itself should not directly lead to deportation without other factors.

Consult Immigration Attorneys

To understand exact implications onimmigration options, undocumented lottery winners should discreetly consult immigration attorneys. Steps can be taken to minimize risks and preserve paths to legal status. Proper legal advice is crucial.

Notable Cases of Undocumented Immigrants Winning the Lottery

Although rare, there have been some notable instances of undocumented immigrants winning big lottery prizes:

Jose Antonio Cua-Toc

In 2007, Jose Antonio Cua-Toc, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, claimed a $750,000 scratch-off prize from the Florida lottery. He obtained a tax ID number in order to have the winnings taxed, but was then identified and detained by ICE. He was eventually permitted to collect his winnings and returned voluntarily to Guatemala.

$6.6 Million Illinois Jackpot

In 2015, an undocumented man from Guatemala came forward to claim a $6.6 million Illinois Lottery jackpot. He had obtained a tax ID number and decided to collect his prize anonymously through a law firm to avoid deportation risks. 25% was withheld for taxes.

$2 Million Winner Stayed Anonymous

In 2019, a $2 million Georgia lottery prize was claimed by an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who wished to remain anonymous. She had an attorney assist with collecting the prize through a trust to avoid publicity. Taxes were paid on the winnings.

Multiple $1 Million Scratch-Off Wins

There have been numerous examples of undocumented immigrants winning $1 million or more on scratch-off lottery tickets. Several have successfully engaged lawyers to claim prizes anonymously while remitting taxes through tax ID numbers.

Winner Lottery Prize Year
Jose Antonio Cua-Toc $750,000 2007
Anonymous $6.6 million 2015
Anonymous $2 million 2019

Key Considerations for Undocumented Mega Millions Winners

Here are some important considerations for undocumented immigrants who manage to win Mega Millions prizes:

– Consult experienced lawyers regarding claiming prizes, taxes, and immigration risks
– Understand state laws on lottery anonymity – some explicitly prohibit for undocumented
– Obtain ITIN to report/pay taxes if no SSN
– Consider claiming through an anonymous trust or LLC if permitted
– Claiming may prohibit future immigration benefits or trigger scrutiny of means
– Assess risks of detection and deportation if claiming publicly
– Develop plan to responsibly manage, invest, and leverage winnings
– Be aware of scammers who may target winners with dubious investment schemes

Winning Mega Millions as an undocumented immigrant involves complex legal, financial, and immigration factors. But with proper guidance, prizes can be claimed discreetly while maintaining future options for legal residency. Responsible management of winnings can still bring life-changing financial rewards.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it completely illegal for undocumented immigrants to play Mega Millions?

No, there is no federal law prohibiting undocumented immigrants from playing Mega Millions. However, some states do explicitly restrict undocumented immigrants from playing state-sponsored lottery games. In most states though, there are no citizenship requirements to purchase tickets or win prizes.

What percentage of Mega Millions winnings do undocumented immigrants need to pay in taxes?

Undocumented immigrants must pay the same taxes as U.S. citizens and legal residents on gambling winnings. This includes 24% federal tax withholding for prizes exceeding $5,000. State taxes ranging from 2% to 8% may also apply depending on the jurisdiction.

Can an undocumented person claim a Mega Millions jackpot under someone else’s name?

No, lottery officials require winners to provide identification and proof of eligibility when claiming substantial prizes. Undocumented immigrants cannot legally claim Mega Millions prizes using someone else’s identity. That would constitute fraud.

Do Mega Millions lottery officials report undocumented winners to immigration authorities?

Lottery officials are not required to verify immigration status or report undocumented prize winners to immigration enforcement. However, publicly claiming a jackpot could potentially expose an undocumented winner’s identity and status.

Can undocumented lottery winners remain in the U.S. if they pay taxes on the winnings?

Paying taxes on lottery winnings does not provide lawful immigration status or directly protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. However, it can help demonstrate good moral character if they later apply for immigration benefits.


Winning Mega Millions as an undocumented immigrant involves unique challenges but is certainly possible. While restrictions exist in some states, undocumented immigrants can often legally play and claim lottery prizes. Winnings are subject to tax withholding and obligations. Anonymously claiming through attorneys and trusts can help minimize public exposure for undocumented winners. With proper legal guidance and responsible management, a lottery windfall could still enrich an undocumented immigrant’s life substantially, despite the risks.