Friday, February 6, 2009

Lottery bosses banned from playing after probe

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A forensic audit showed lottery retailers, their partners and families won nearly twice as much money as had been estimated previously. (Feb 4, 2009)
Ombudsman puts retailers on notice to clean up their act
February 06, 2009

Staff Reporters

Within hours of the Ontario ombudsman calling for action on insider lottery fraud, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. said it would institute a ban on lottery ticket purchases by OLG employees and its board of directors on April 1.

According to an internal memo from OLG CEO Kelly McDougald, the move is intended to "address the broad concerns about OLG's integrity" but does not reflect "suspicions of fraud or breaches of trust." The ban will cover corporation employees but not lottery retailers.

Yesterday morning, Ombudsman André Marin said lottery retailers, staff and their families should be banned from buying lottery tickets if insider fraud doesn't drop drastically within six months.

An audit released Wednesday by the lottery corporation "demonstrates that despite all the measures, despite the publicity, despite the denunciations, insider fraud still happens," Marin said at a news conference. "If insiders prove to be an ungovernable lot, we should ban them from playing the lottery."

But the head of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, Dave Bryans, said policing such a rule might prove unfeasible, given the high turnover among workers in the province's roughly 10,000 corner stores. Instead, he said, dubious retailers should lose the "privilege" to sell lottery tickets.

The $750,000 audit found insiders – retailers, OLG staff and their families – won $198 million in the last 13 years. That was almost twice as much as OLG had estimated.

Marin called the sum "astronomical," far more than the "tens of millions" he had supposed in his 2007 report on the lottery corporation.

The ombudsman said he has asked the OLG for a full update within six months, and will recommend steps based on those results.

But he did not rule out taking more immediate action, including another investigation of the OLG "if questions arise" before then.

In a statement, McDougald said the OLG welcomes Marin's request for a six-month follow-up "as the ombudsman has played a critical role in initiating the many needed changes at OLG."

Munira Mavani, who sells lottery tickets in Toronto's Royal Bank Plaza, said a ban would be unfair. But, she said yesterday, "I don't mind, I never play anyway."

Yesterday, Marin said the OLG has always been reluctant to interfere with retailers considered to be avid lottery players. "OLG cultivates insiders as its main customers," he said. "It wants to be careful not to alienate one of its top customers."

Marin in 2007 made more than 20 recommendations to crack down on fraud. The OLG responded by launching a series of anti-fraud measures, including automatic probes of claims of $10,000 or more by retailers and other insiders.

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