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BCLC must pay withheld jackpots to some banned gamblers

B.C. Lottery Corporation has a policy of denying jackpot payouts to gamblers in its voluntary self-exclusion program. - File photo
B.C. Lottery Corporation has a policy of denying jackpot payouts to gamblers in its voluntary self-exclusion program.
— image credit: File photo

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled some problem gamblers who had themselves banned from B.C. casinos but managed to keep playing are owed jackpots that were withheld by the B.C. Lottery Corp.

The ruling in the class action lawsuit applies only to jackpots over $10,000 that were won but not paid out between April 2009 and June 2010, because jackpot entitlement rules were not validly enacted during that period.

Justice John Savage ruled the BCLC had "no authority to withhold jackpot prizes" at that time.

The rules were clarified in 2010 when the province amended its Gaming Control Act, and self-excluded gamblers who were refused big payouts after that are out of luck.

The case was led by two problem gamblers on behalf of numerous others who enrolled in the voluntary self-exclusion program yet still lost large amounts at casinos.

Hamidreza Haghdust was denied jackpots totaling $35,000 at casinos in Coquitlam and Vancouver and Michael Lee was refused a payout of more than $42,000 at a community gaming centre in Duncan.

The plaintiffs argued the large prizes should not have been confiscated because BCLC failed to keep them out of the casinos under the self-exclusion program and was therefore in breach of contract.

The judge did find BCLC was in breach of contract, noting that although Haghdust and Lee knew they were breaking the rules by re-entering casinos to gamble while banned, the lottery corporation was not blameless.

"BCLC is a large quasi-corporate entity with a total monopoly over the provision of the very thing with which the plaintiff class struggle," the judgment says. "Gamblers are ferried to its facilities and receive loyalty rewards. BCLC is undoubtedly in a more powerful position."

BCLC said in a statement it will work with lawyers for the plaintiffs to return jackpots to those who are eligible.

"Overall, the decision validates BCLC's ability to withhold jackpots as a deterrent for those who are voluntary self-excluded and that the program is being operated effectively," the Crown corporation said.

It's not known how many gamblers may now be paid their five-year-old winnings.

Lawyers behind the case initially said they were trying to recoup 427 jackpots worth total of up to $1.5 million, but only some of those prizes were withheld during the initial 14 months after the BCLC introduced its denial of winnings policy in 2009.

While Haghdust was denied big jackpots when he managed to re-enter casinos, he also incurred $200,000 in losses since entering the self-exclusion program in 2006.

More than 8,400 B.C. residents are enrolled in the voluntary self-exclusion program and participants are denied entry or removed from casinos about 700 times each month.

An earlier court ruling found BCLC did not owe damages to a North Delta woman who entered casinos in Surrey and Langley while excluded and lost $78,000.

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