The mystery surrounding a winning $50 million Lotto Max ticket led the B.C. Lottery Corporation’s president to warn employees earlier this year not to speculate about the case in public.
According to a memo released under a freedom of information request, Jim Lightbody issued an all-staff reminder to employees last March to keep quiet during the verification process, which is still going on.
“Be mindful of where conversations are occurring (stay away from discussing this matter in public locations such as the parkade or local coffee shops),” Lightbody wrote.
“Share information only on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. While we are all curious as to the outcome, we need to keep the information secure until it can be shared more widely; stay away from speculation.”
Lotto records withheld
The memos are part of an otherwise almost completely unsuccessful bid to pry information out of BCLC about the Lotto Max mystery.
The draw for the prize took place March 14, 2014, and the winner had a year to claim the prize, but stepped forward on March 9, 2015, just days before the deadline.
BCLC said at the time that they needed to verify the winner. But the corporation has said nothing since. Clearly, though, a lot has been going on behind the scenes.
In response to a CBC request for copies of reports or investigations into the win, the lottery corporation withheld 275 pages of records. They argue the disclosure would reveal policy advice or recommendations; reveal legal advice; harm the effectiveness of investigative techniques; harm intergovernmental relations; and harm personal privacy.
The response also says that BCLC won’t provide any more information about the claim until the verification process is concluded.
All prize winners have to establish a rightful claim, either by themselves or as part of the group. That includes proving or providing a record of ownership for the ticket.
But by any estimation, the wait is a long one.
Last February, Gregory Nikolopoulos won a $50 million Lotto Max draw in Ontario on Friday, Feb. 6. He was presented with a ceremonial cheque the following Monday.
And in October, a group of 12 co-workers in Markham were publicly announced as the winners of a $60 million Lotto Max prize within a week of the numbers being drawn.
The issue is a sensitive one for BCLC, which was criticized by the province’s ombudsman in 2007 in a report undertaken to address concerns about lottery retailers claiming too many prizes.
At that time, the report suggested the corporation’s questions for people claiming prizes of $500,000 or more mostly related to where and when the ticket was bought.
In one case a “BCLC retailer was paid a prize of more than a $1 million even though she could not identify the correct date of the purchase.”
The corporation defended its security, noting that any irregular prize claims are referred to corporate security for a full security investigation.
News reports have suggested the winner of the Lotto Max prize would like to remain anonymous. But one of the conditions of claiming a prize is consenting to the release of your name and photograph.
Lottery corporations have granted anonymity to winners in rare circumstances.
In 2008, a Winnipeg man managed to convince Western Canada Lottery Corp. to keep his identity secret in relation to a $3 million prize; the company said it made exemptions for prison guards and undercover police officers.
The $50 million win has already made its way into B.C. Supreme Court, where a Shoppers Drug Mart employee sued a co-worker for allegedly concealing the winning ticket from their employee pool.
In his response, the woman’s co-worker claimed he simply forgot to buy tickets on the March 14 draw date. There have been no further filings in that case for almost a year.
The following is from a memo written by BCLC president Jim Lightbody to staff on March 23, two weeks after the as-yet unidentified winner of a $50 million Lotto Max prize stepped forward:
“$50M winning LOTTO MAX ticket
It was certainly an exciting event for BCLC when the winning ticket of the $50M LOTTO MAX draw was turned in last week. As you know, we are now in the process of verifying the rightful ticket holder and we expect that process to take some time.
In the meantime, BCLC has made certain commitments to keep all information regarding the prize claim confidential until we complete our internal processes.
To meet those commitments, we need all employees to uphold our confidentiality standards: be mindful of where conversations are occurring (stay away from discussing this matter in public locations such as the parkade or local coffee shops); share information only on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.