Christmas came four days early but seven weeks late for a trio of "insider" lottery winners from a small town northeast of Peterborough, Ontario, who faced a lengthy investigation before receiving their big payout.
"When we went in, we expected to get a cheque just like everyone else does, then they popped the bubble and said, 'Sorry, you're going to have to wait,' " said Al Breedon, one of the winners of the $1-million prize.
He and his wife, Linda Smith, and friend Linette Dynes purchased the winning Instant Millions scratch ticket on Nov. 4 from the Kawartha Lakes Trading Post convenience store in Fenelon Falls, Ont.
Because Ms. Smith, 39, and Ms. Dynes, 37, own the store, they were investigated as lottery insiders by the provincial Ombudsman under the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.'s new policy of verifying tickets, which includes scrutinizing all wins more than $10,000, instead of the previous threshold of $50,000.
The trio became the first lottery winners to be investigated under the new guidelines unveiled on Nov. 10.
Mr. Breedon, 44, said OLG employees told them not to tell the media or anyone in their small community about their win until the investigation was complete, or it could delay the processing of their prize. He said the OLG mentioned the CBC program the fifth estate, which alleged in October that a disproportionate number of lottery insiders in Ontario have won large prizes.
"It would be in our best interest not to mention that we were winners, and not to talk to the press, specifically the fifth estate," Mr. Breedon said the OLG told him.
Mr. Breedon said the ticket went through a forensic audit and an investigation by the OPP, the provincial Ombudsman and a final panel before the cheque was released.
Teresa Ronchon, a spokeswoman for the OLG, said money is not released until an investigation concludes the win is legitimate.
"We advise winners they do not have to speak to the media. We will not confirm any win, whether it's a retailer or somebody else, prior to the prize being paid and the retailer investigation being completed," Ms. Ronchon said.
Mr. Breedon said waiting for an investigation was especially painful because he didn't know that an insider policy existed. He said the three learned of it when they went to OLG offices in Toronto to pick up their prize, only to be turned away.
"Hopefully they can get the insiders and the purchasers informed," Mr. Breedon said, adding that because of the almost two-month wait, the trio lost $10,000 in interest. He said he is unsure whether he will take legal action.
The long wait finally ended on Dec. 21 when, at 4 p.m., the three were told to hurry to the OLG offices to pick up their money.
Mr. Breedon said they were quietly presented a cheque at the end of the business day, with OLG officials rushing to take their pictures. No news media were present.
The OLG normally issues news releases listing lottery winnings of more than $10,000, but Ms. Ronchon said one was not issued on Dec. 21 because OLG offices were closing for holidays early on Dec. 22.
"We always had every intention of sending the news release - and the pictures of the winners which we took when we gave them the prize on Thursday - to the media. This is not the first time there's been a delay," Ms. Ronchon said.
The OLG issued a news release on the Fenelon Falls winners late yesterday afternoon.
"We passed. There was no flags, there was no doubt, but they put us through a lot of bad things: pointing the finger at you, making you feel like a criminal," Mr. Breedon said.
Now that they've received the payout, Mr. Breedon said they've paid off bills, put the money in the bank and plan to build several new homes in the country.