It may have once seemed like a dream come true, but a winning lottery ticket has turned into a nightmare for 21 people in Okotoks, Alberta.
On Nov. 23 last year, the 21, all patrons or employees at the local Elks Club, chipped in $5 each to buy tickets for that night's Super 7 draw, one of which proved to be worth $20 million.
The members of the group should each have received more than $900,000 by now, but a dispute has arisen over who is entitled to a share.
While they attempt to sort things out, the claimants have agreed to let the Western Canada Lottery Corporation put the money in a trust account.
The lottery corporation hasn't released the names of the winners, who are keeping a low profile. Reached at his Okotoks home, Drew Devries said he belongs to the group, which purchases lottery tickets on a regular basis, but declined to comment further until the matter is resolved, though he expressed the hope that, "Maybe I'll see some money some day."
A bartender at the Elks Club on Monday also declined to comment, saying lawyers had advised everyone involved in the dispute to remain silent.
The Alberta Elks Association doesn't plan on getting involved in the dispute, said Don Neal, president of the Alberta chapter, since it seems to be a private matter that doesn't reflect negatively on the Elks.
"I wouldn't be too concerned about it," he said, adding jackpots always seem to result in someone wanting more than their fair share of the winnings.
Okotoks Mayor Bill McAlpine, who belongs to the Elks Club but isn't involved in the dispute, expressed a similar opinion. He takes part in a different lottery group.
"I know the little group that I get tickets with, you snooze, you lose," he said. "If you don't (pay for) a ticket, how can you ask for a portion of the winnings, that's my position."
The squabble in Okotoks isn't the first of its kind in Canada. In 2005, four employees of an A&W restaurant in Mission, B.C., went to court over a disputed ticket, claiming they should have received a share of the $14.5 million won by nine co-workers. The judge ultimately awarded almost $10 million to the original nine.
More recently, a Vancouver woman sued her former boyfriend, claiming she was entitled to half of a $12.4 million jackpot since she had given him the money to purchase the winning ticket. The two later reached an undisclosed settlement out of court.
Disputes over lottery winnings involving tickets purchased by a group are fairly common, said lottery corporation spokeswoman Andrea Marantz.
"It's not an uncommon story that people who play the lottery together as a group are not completely clear on who is part of the group," she said.
But there isn't much the lottery corporation can do when there's a disagreement, since while the agency hears any disputes, it can't impose a solution. People who play the lottery in groups should fill out a group buying agreement specifying who is participating before the draw, said Marantz.
But the the recent events haven't deterred people in Okotoks from participating in the lottery. Veronica Kwon, proprietor of the gas station where the group purchased the winning ticket, said lottery ticket sales there have increased since their win.
A Brief History of Canadian Lottery Disputes
- In 2006, B.C. residents Kenneth Garbe and then-girlfriend Ludmila (Lida) Konickova win $12.4 million in the Super 7. Konickova claims she gave Garbe $20 to buy the winning ticket, but he denies it. An out-of-court, undisclosed settlement is reached.
- In 2005, an estranged couple's lengthy fight over a $500,000 lottery windfall ends when the B.C. Court of Appeal awards the entire amount to the woman who cashed the winning ticket.
- In 2005, nine A&W restaurant employees in Mission, B.C., win $14.5 million in the Lotto 6/49. Four co-workers come forward claiming they were part of the group that regularly bought tickets. Later, the original nine winners are given $1.1 million each, but the rest of the money is being held until the trial.
- In 2002, 59 employees at the Universal Studios Canada warehouse in Toronto win $12.5 million in the Super 7 lottery. Each member of the group is entitled to a payout of more than $200,000. Another Universal employee claims she is entitled to an equal share of the winnings and 1/60 of the windfall is frozen while an investigation ensues.
- In 1995, a man sues 11 of his co-workers at Hartford Fibres, a plant near Kingston, Ont., and eventually walks away with his share of a $1.15-million lottery prize.