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Ontario Lottery forced to publicize internal probe into 'insider win'

Apr 8, 2008, 7:26 am

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Ontario Lottery and Gaming CorporationOntario Lottery and Gaming Corporation: Ontario Lottery forced to publicize internal probe into 'insider win'

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. has violated the public trust and can't justify hiding documents about its internal probe into a $21.5 million win by a Cambridge convenience store owner, the province's privacy commission has ruled.

The lottery corporation has until May 9 to release documents related to the probe under a Freedom of Information request filed and appealed by the CBC, assistant commissioner Brian Beamish ruled Friday.

"The public must remain vigilant. This information is necessary to allow them to do so," Beamish wrote in his 51-page ruling.

"The public pours more than $2 billion into lotteries each year. Its trust has been broken and only persistent scrutiny of the OLG's actions with respect to insider wins can help restore that trust. Contrary to the OLG's submissions, holding the OLG up to scrutiny remains essential and in the public interest."

The ruling comes after a scandal last year sparked by a disproportionate number of jackpot wins by so-called lottery insiders.

Ombudsman Andre Marin slammed the lottery corporation in his examination a year ago, saying it ignored allegations of widespread retailer fraud, "coddling" ticket sellers while playing "games" with customers who complained they had been cheated.

Suggesting confidence in the lottery system was shattered, Marin said the corporation lost sight of its obligation to the public in its desire to maintain a good relationship with some of its best customers: retailers.

The corporation, which has vowed to implement all of Marin's recommendations, is now regulated by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, and all customers are required to sign their tickets to crack down on potential fraud.

But Beamish said public scrutiny of the corporation did not end with the ombudsman's recommendations.

"There are serious and legitimate concerns with respect to the number of insider wins that have occurred and with respect to the investigative procedures in place at the OLG," he wrote. "The public has a right to properly scrutinize insider lottery wins and the actions of the OLG in investigating those wins."

The case in question involves a Cambridge convenience store owner whose former partner filed a lawsuit alleging he left her after the two won the $21.5 million in July 2006. Because the retailer was both a "major winner" and an "insider winner," his claim was investigated by the lottery corporation.

In response to a Freedom of Information request about the internal probe, the lottery corporation refused to confirm or deny the investigation and said if documents did exist, they would be protected under privacy laws.

OLG spokesman John Letherby said Monday the corporation only received the ruling on Friday and was still "reviewing it in detail."

"Until there is the ability to do that thorough review, we wouldn't be able to comment any further," Letherby said, declining to say whether the corporation is considering an appeal. "I wouldn't be able to comment at this time."

The commission's decision can be appealed on the grounds it had "no jurisdiction" to rule on the case, the process was not "fair," or the decision was "unreasonable" or "irrational."


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