Ban lottery sellers from buying, gov't urged; Tory leader seeks independent probe
The Canadian Press / CP
National/World - Thursday, November 23, 2006 Updated @ 8:10:47 AM
The government should consider banning lottery retailers from buying tickets in light of mounting allegations that clerks are winning a disproportionate number of prizes, Conservative Leader John Tory said Wednesday.
The government should call an independent investigation into the allegations retailers are cheating winners out of their prizes and winning an exorbitant number of prizes from so-called scratch-and-win tickets, Tory said.
A key part of that investigation should consider whether lottery retailers should be allowed to buy tickets, he added.
"Is it more important to let those 140,000 people buy their tickets and have some of the revenue from that then it is to maintain the integrity of the system?" Tory said. "I think the integrity always comes first."
Most employees can't participate in their employer's contests, because it wouldn't look right even if an employee won fair and square, he added.
After allegations last month that lottery retailers were claiming a disproportionate number of jackpots, it's now alleged retail clerks have claimed one in 10 scratch-and-win prizes totalling $10.7 million in the last six years.
The firestorm over lottery fraud was ignited last month when a report on CBC-TV's "The Fifth Estate" suggested lottery retailers have won more prizes in recent years than mere chance would normally allow.
The CBC now alleges the lottery corporation found cases where a retailer could lightly scratch an instant-win card to see a code which determined whether it was a winning ticket.
Duncan Brown, CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, said retailers are winning more simply because they play more often. If retailers were banned from buying tickets, it would cut out the corporation's "core players."
"They spend more on the games and they win more often because they spend more," said Brown, who expressed confidence that the system is safe from fraud. "Our standards are certainly higher than just about anybody else's."
The corporation brought in new security measures this month to try to restore public confidence in the system. It also hired a firm to conduct an internal investigation, and the province's ombudsman is looking into 400 complaints of alleged retailer fraud.
While many say public confidence in the province's lottery system has been severely shaken, Brown said the recent allegations haven't put a dent in the corporation's lottery revenues.
Dave Bryans, president of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, said banning retailers from buying tickets would be "unworkable and unreasonable." The retail turnover rate would make it virtually impossible to enforce, he said.
Instead of targeting small-business owners, Bryans said it would make more sense to certify lottery retailers.
"There has to be a better way of building consumer confidence," he said. "It's very unfair to pick on these small families that work so hard. Let's not paint everyone with the same brush."
The Liberal government isn't showing much enthusiasm for the idea either.
"The implication that 140,000 of some of the most hard-working and honest Ontarians are somehow corrupt and should have that cloud of suspicion, I have a great deal of difficulty with that implication," said David Caplan, minister of public infrastructure and renewal.