British Columbia Judge Orders Lottery Corp to Pay Jackpot Due to Problem Gamblers

Written By Janice Doughtrey

BC Supreme Court Justice John Savage has ordered the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) to pay a number of gamblers who hit the jackpot at stake while playing at BCLC-managed casinos, at a time when they were under a self-exclusion program. Hamidreza Haghdust, Michael Lee and a couple of other gamblers who filed a class-action lawsuit will finally be able to collect the jackpot they won. The judge’s decision was based on the argument that the BCLC policy that prevented them from collecting the prize was not yet legally enforceable at the time when they gambled and won.

Judge Savage ruled that although the provincial crown corporation had instituted the policy in April 2009, the legislative amendment that would have rendered the policy legally enforceable came around only in June 2010. The BC Supreme Court Judge therefore ruled that during the 14-month gap from April 2009 to June 2010, BCLC did not have the legal authority to deny payment of the jackpots won by the gamblers, even if they violated the self-exclusion program during the stated period.

The BCLC, therefore, is bound to pay as much as CA$450,000 to the problem gamblers who won during the 14-month window. Those claiming winnings after the June 2010 gambling law amendment will not be able to collect their claims.

Hamidreza Haghdust’s total claim is for CA$35,000, but the BCLC is liable to pay him only CA$15,000 since he won the prize before the June 2010 cut-off. The remaining CA$20,000 was his winnings when he went back to the BCLC-managed casino in June 15, 2010 while still under the self-exclusion program. Michael Lee on the other hand will be able to collect in full, since his CA$42,500 claim was won before June 2010.

Paul Bennett, the lawyer who represented the problem gamblers in their class action lawsuit said he was still contemplating on filing a motion for reconsideration, regarding Judge Savage’s ruling that claims for payment of winnings will qualify only those that fall within the June 2010 cut-off.

The BCLC and the province’s gambling regulators have received criticisms about the ineffectiveness of the voluntary self-exclusion program. They contend that the crown corporation and regulatory authorities have not instituted adequate measures to prevent those who signed up with the program, from re-entering casinos. Arguments have it that policies are enforced only if problem gamblers are winning, but not when they are losing money to the casinos.

The BCLC issued a statement last Thursday acknowledging the Supreme Court Judge’s decision, stating that they will be paying out only those withheld by the lottery corporation between April 2009 and June 2010. The announcement included a rejoinder countering the criticisms thrown against the voluntary self-exclusion program with which problem gamblers sign up.

“The jackpot disentitlement rule is intended as a deterrent for those who have voluntarily self-excluded,” “External reviews of BCLC’s voluntary self-exclusion program, as well as feedback from program participants themselves, have highlighted the need for disincentives such as these.”

In handing down his decision, Judge Savage wrote, “Certainly, rewarding people who violate their (voluntary self-exclusion program) commitments with jackpots is anathema to any public policy concerns about dissuading gambling by those people in the first instance.”