Joel Ifergan came within seven seconds of becoming a multi-millionaire, and he's ready to go to court to claim his windfall.
Mr. Ifergan bought a lottery ticket one night at 8:59 p.m., but Loto-Québec's computers processed and printed it only after the draw's deadline at 9 p.m.
It turned out to be a winning ticket — but it popped out of the machine too late. Now, Mr. Ifergan is suing Quebec's behemoth lottery corporation for $13.5 million, saying that the machine's time lag cost him his share of the $27 million prize.
"I played by their rules. I purchased a ticket prior to 9 p.m. It's not my fault their technology is slow," Mr. Ifergan said yesterday.
Mr. Ifergan's saga began one night in May when he drove to the Dairy Queen near his home in suburban Dollard-des-Ormeaux for an ice cream. Realizing there was a Super 7 grand prize draw that night, he went into a convenience store in the strip mall to try his luck.
It was 8:59 p.m., and ticket sales for the draw continued until 9 p.m.
He asked storeowner Mehernosh Iranpur if he still had time to buy tickets. Mr. Iranpur checked the clock on his Loto-Québec terminal. It read 8:59 p.m.
Mr. Iranpur entered two ticket requests into the terminal.
"I punched twice, before 9 p.m.," Mr. Iranpur recalled yesterday in an interview. "The first ticket came out. I said, 'It's still 8:59, it's still 8:59!' "
The second ticket, however, didn't come out until seven seconds after 9 p.m., making it eligible for the next draw.
The next morning, Mr. Ifergan was drinking his coffee at home and checked the lottery numbers in the newspaper. He was elated for a few seconds when he realized he held a winning combination of seven numbers for the previous night's draw.
But the numbers were on the second ticket — the one issued after 9 p.m.
"I was in shock, in total shock," he said. "I couldn't believe it. I started to scream."
Someone else also held the winning numbers and was awarded the entire $27 million prize. Mr. Ifergan says he's owed half of it, so he's claiming $13.5 million in his suit.
According to Mr. Ifergan's statement of claim filed in Quebec Superior Court, Loto-Québec technicians admitted to a delay of eight to 10 seconds between the request of a lottery ticket and the processing time in Loto-Québec's central computer.
The technicians, speaking to Mr. Ifergan and his lawyer, also said that because of the large jackpot prize on May 23, the night Mr. Ifergan bought his ticket, strong demand probably pushed the processing delay to 10 seconds, the claim states.
Loto-Québec's website says the deadline for Super 7 wagers is Friday at 9 p.m., and so do ads in stores that sell lottery tickets, the lawsuit says. Loto-Québec doesn't advertise the requirement that a Super 7 lottery ticket be purchased and processed by the corporation's central computer by the 9 p.m. deadline, it adds.
Mr. Ifergan's lawyer, Robert Pancer, says he could find no precedent for this case, which he says rests on the issue of responsibility.
"The consumer is not responsible for the delays relating to the printing of the ticket," he said. "He [Mr. Ifergan] acquired the ticket prior to the 9 p.m. deadline. It's just crazy."
Loto-Québec refused to comment on the case because it is before the courts.
But the dispute drew plenty of comments on call-in shows. Many were unsympathetic.
"I find it reflects two traits you find in people nowadays — to do everything at the last minute, and to blame others for our faults," a woman named Sabrina wrote on the website of one TV call-in show.
"It's not the machine that was slow," wrote a woman named Marie-Pier, "it was him!"
Mr. Ifergan said he already had some tickets for the Super 7 draw, and the ones from Mr. Iranpur's store were simply bought on an impulse because he happened to park in front of the convenience store.
"This is a David and Goliath case," the father of two said of his fight against the lottery corporation. "They have limitless amounts of money. And they have too much to lose to admit they have a glitch in their system."
He admitted that with the economy in turmoil, the cash "would look very nice in my bank account." All that's in the bank for now, however, is the disputed ticket — in a safety deposit box.