Brother, sister from Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask. win $1 million with lottery ticket

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Saskatchewan Lotteries says Fort Qu’Appelle siblings won $1 million on the Jan. 11 Western Max draw.

Michele Hahn and her brother Gerhard Hahn plan to share the winnings with family.


READ MORE:
Record 15 Saskatchewan million-dollar lottery wins in 2018

“We both decided a long time ago that if we ever won the lottery, a lot of people would benefit from the win,” Gerhard said in a press release.

“It’s really nice that we’re able to make things easier for everyone.”


READ MORE:
Kindersley man takes trip to Hawaii to clear head after $1M Lotto Max win

Michele bought the winning ticket at the Pharmasave on Broadway Street in Fort Qu’Appelle.

The Hahn siblings’ lucky numbers were 2, 25, 34, 36, 37, 46, and 49.

Fort Qu’Appelle is around 60 kilometres northeast of Regina.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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STARS Alberta hoping to purchase new helicopters with proceeds from 2019 lottery

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The 2019 STARS Lottery Alberta grand prizes were unveiled Thursday, including three fully-furnished dream homes in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge.

More than 2,800 prizes worth over $4.5 million will be awarded to ticket holders this year.

STARS Alberta CEO Andrea Robertson said a top fundraising priority is to replace some of the organization’s aging fleet.

“We’ve been flying the same helicopters for 34 years, and they need a lot of work,” Robertson said. “They’re nearing their end of life, and so now is the time to replace them.”

The aging fleet, comprised of BK 117 helicopters, has completed tens of thousands of missions.

READ MORE: STARS in Alberta looking to replace fleet over 5 years

Watch below: (From June 25, 2018) STARS Air Ambulance is looking to replace its entire Alberta fleet with five new helicopters by 2024. Dr. JN Armstrong, the chief medical officer in charge of STARS, spoke to Gord Steinke about the plan.






STARS Alberta says it needs to replace five choppers, and it won’t be cheap; each fully-equipped Airbus H145 costs about $13 million.

“It’s not something that will happen overnight, the economy has thrown us a few curves, so I do really want to say a special thank you for the ongoing support, especially when the economy has been really up and down,” Robertson said.

The first new unit for Alberta is planned to arrive this year, with no plans to reduce access to STARS serving Albertans as the fleet is changed over.

The remainder of the fleet will be be replaced within five years.

“We’re going to be raising funds and talking to our government partners about purchasing those helicopters, but as we go, now the lottery is more important than it’s ever been.”

Each ticket purchased is eligible for all prize draws.

Take a look at the STARS Alberta Dream Home in Edmonton at 4209 Veterans Way in the gallery below.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Brampton man among those who hit jackpot in Ontario’s cannabis store lottery

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Clint Seukeran has no experience in the cannabis business.

But he’s long been an evangelist for the health and artistic benefits of the newly legalized plant.

Shoppers line up to purchase cannabis from a store in Calgary after recreational marijuana was legalized nationwide in October. The first retail pot stores in Ontario will open by April 1.
Shoppers line up to purchase cannabis from a store in Calgary after recreational marijuana was legalized nationwide in October. The first retail pot stores in Ontario will open by April 1.  (Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press file photo)

Now Seukeran will have the chance to put his passion to practical use, as one of the first 25 people and companies given the chance to apply for a cannabis store licence in Ontario.

He was a winner of the provincial lottery held last week to open up the first group of licences.

“I thought it was junk mail. I thought there’s no way,” the Brampton man said of being notified of his win Friday evening.

Seukeran — who claimed one of the six spots awarded for the regions surrounding Toronto — quickly shifted from disbelief to glee as the news sank in.

“I was elated,” he said. “I was absolutely thrilled to become part of this movement.

“Basically I was in bliss … once I discovered it was real.”

Seukeran faced long odds to claim the opportunity.

The 25 winners, who were notified by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, were selected from some 16,905 applicants by purpose-built lottery software.

That gave entrants a 1-in-676.2 chance of winning. By comparison, Lotto 6/49 offers ticket buyers a 1-in-6.6 chance at some sort of prize.

But industry experts, such as Lift & Co. head Matei Olaru, say the store licences — which the lottery gave winners a chance to apply for — could be worth millions of dollars to the initial shop owners.

Olaru, whose Toronto company acts as an industry resource and information provider, told the Star these first entrants into the brick-and-mortar pot sector will almost certainly prosper from being the earliest recreational merchants in Canada’s most populous province.

"I was elated. I was absolutely thrilled to become part of this movement," said Clint Seukeran, who learned Friday he was one of 25 winners of the province's pot lottery. The win gives him a chance to apply for one of the first cannabis retail licences in Ontario.
« I was elated. I was absolutely thrilled to become part of this movement, » said Clint Seukeran, who learned Friday he was one of 25 winners of the province’s pot lottery. The win gives him a chance to apply for one of the first cannabis retail licences in Ontario.  (supplied)

But Seukeran, who owns the coconut water bottling company CGS Foods Inc., says he’s more interested in the health benefits he’ll help spread than in the monetary rewards.

Once an aspiring doctor, he said he’s been interested in the health effects of marijuana since he came to Canada in 1996 to study medicine.

“I didn’t finish my degree in medicine because I wanted to do something that was preventative rather than a solution,” he said.

“So I decided to get into health foods and healthy natural products, and I was interested in (the active cannabis ingredient CBD) specifically.

“The efficacy of these new compounds were so entrancing for me. I thought they (had) so many uses that I wanted to be part of that health movement.”

While he never sold medical marijuana, Seukeran did earn an MBA in the agriculture and food business from the University of Guelph.

And with a second manufacturing business in his native Trinidad and Tobago, he says he has the financial resources to open and operate his new endeavour.

But Seukeran readily admits the pot business is new to him and that he lacks enough knowledge to get started on his own.

“I’m not involved in the industry. I know nothing about it,” he said. “So I’ll defer to the expertise of the ones who do have it.”

To that end, Seukeran has turned to Cannabis Compliance Inc. of Mississauga to help him navigate his entrance into the trade.

That initial foray includes a rigorous and expensive licensing process that demands applicants provide a $50,000 line of credit to the commission and spend some $10,000 in non-refundable fees for licensing and store permits.

The first stores will be required to open by April 1 or face stiff fines. They will also need to train staff and install security systems, among numerous other compliance requirements.

Of the 25 winning application spots, five are in Toronto proper, six in the rest of the GTA, five more in eastern Ontario, seven in the western part of the province and two in the north.

Seukeran, 39, says he’ll have to wait until Jan. 22 — the deadline for municipalities to decide whether they will allow cannabis retail shops — to choose a store location.

Seukeran, who will submit his licence application under the CGS Foods Inc. label, was one of only seven winners who did not enter the lottery as individuals.

Some 64 per cent of all applicants were listed as sole proprietors, 33 per cent as corporations, and 4 per cent as partnerships and limited partnerships.

Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter and feature writer. Reach him on email: gjhall@thestar.ca

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Draw for Ontario’s cannabis licence lottery expected today, with results within 24 hours

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Ontario could announce the results of a lottery to apply for the first 25 retail cannabis licences as early as today.

Those seeking to open a pot shop in the province had from Monday to early afternoon Wednesday to submit an expression of interest.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which will regulate the province’s retail cannabis outlets, has said it will pick the winners randomly today, with the results expected to be announced within 24 hours.

Those selected through the lottery will have five business days to turn in their application along with a $6,000 non-refundable fee and a $50,000 letter of credit.

The licences are being divided regionally, with five going to the east of the province, seven in the west, two in the north, six in the Greater Toronto Area and five in Toronto itself.

Recreational cannabis can currently only be purchased legally in Ontario through a government-run website, with the first private stores set to open April 1.

The Progressive Conservative government had initially said it would not put a cap on the number of outlets, but later said it would begin with only 25 licences due to what it called serious cannabis supply issues that had to be addressed by the federal government.

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Ontario is holding a lottery for cannabis stores on Friday. Here’s what the rest of the country tried and how it turned out

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However, there’s one major outlier: British Columbia. The entrenchment of black- and grey-market cannabis operations in B.C., as well as the sluggish rate of legal cannabis store openings, means the province has a chimera of private and public sale systems that’s been difficult to leverage.

“They have a quasi-legal illegal market,” Osak said. “They have a couple of publicly owned stores and now, recently, a couple of private (ones). So they have a mixed bag of everything.”

A lot of questions about Ontario’s cannabis licensing system remain unanswered, Osak said, especially when it comes to late penalties.

Retailers are required to submit a $50,000 letter of credit as part of their application. If they aren’t open by April 1, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario can take $12,500 of that. Retailers who still aren’t open by April 15 will lose another $12,500. What isn’t clear is whether stores that have passed all of the necessary inspections and trained their staff appropriately could suffer these penalties if they’re faced with an unreliable supply of weed and are forced to close.

“This whole process is clouded in uncertainty,” Osak said.

Here’s a look at how the rest of Canada has handled brick-and-mortar cannabis stores and how they’ve fared since legalization:

Read more:

Ontario’s cannabis retail lottery will have just 25 winners. But is it a smart approach, or a golden ticket to nowhere?

N.B. cannabis retailer lays off staffers as ‘operational needs’ become clear

Toronto council opts in on pot shops just as Ontario limits number to 25 because of supply shortage

British Columbia

The process: While B.C. isn’t limiting the number of private cannabis retailers, applicants must go through several steps in order to officially obtain a licence, including paying an application fee of $7,500 and receiving approval from their local government or Indigenous nation.

What worked: In B.C., most cannabis users who couldn’t go to the only provincially owned store in Kamloops had to buy from the provincially operated online store in the first two weeks of legalization. It proved immensely popular, with reports that the province was low on stock just 24 hours after launch.

Private retailers came a few weeks later, with Tamarack Cannabis Boutique in Kimberley being the first out of the gate.

What didn’t: Regulations have limited stores to selling products exclusively from the provincial wholesaler. As a result, stores cannot carry cannabis-based creams and edibles; Tamarack owner Tamara Duggan said those were some of the most popular items at her Kimberley store.

The roll-out of stores in other municipalities has been much slower, with businesses complaining that the licensing process is overly complex. In Vancouver, a hub of cannabis use where several illegal stores are still in operation, three months passed before the first two private retailers opened their doors — to long lineups from enthusiastic customers.

Jaclynn Pehota, a regulatory consultant for Evergreen Cannabis, said the process for private licensing is “not particularly intuitive or user-friendly,” and many small businesses may not have had the resources to get through.

Alberta

The process: Alberta has taken a relatively hands-off approach to selling weed, similar to their privatized system for liquor stores. Applicants looking to open a storefront must secure approval from municipal authorities and submit to an application process (which includes background checks) from the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC).

There is no cap on the number of stores allowed within the province, although the AGLC expected to see around 250 store applications within the first year of legalization. However, privatization doesn’t extend to the internet: The only legal website to buy weed in Alberta is the AGLC-run albertacannabis.org.

What worked: Alberta had 17 storefronts open on Oct. 17. The Edmonton area alone had a dozen ready to go on legalization day, while Calgary had two. There are several possible reasons why the provincial capital outpaced Cowtown so quickly, including an existing medical cannabis industry (Aurora’s headquarters are based in Edmonton) and relaxed public consumption laws. Albertans also have a healthy appetite for bud: Nova Cannabis, a chain with stores across the province, pulled in $1.3 million in sales within the first five days of legalization.

What didn’t work: As with other provinces, Alberta’s brick-and-mortar stores and albertacannabis.org found themselves starved of weed just a month after legalization. In late November, the AGLC announced a moratorium on granting new store licences until supply issues could be resolved, saying it had only received 20 per cent of the cannabis it had ordered from licensed producers.

Several stores, including Numo Cannabis in northern Edmonton, had to close for weeks due to a lack of weed, while Urban Canna, a small chain in Calgary, found itself unable to open at all during the first month of legalization. Some Alberta municipalities have also vetoed pot stores, and Calgary has found itself bogged down with appeals against cannabis stores within city limits.

Atlantic Canada

The process: In Nova Scotia, the government-run Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) is the only authorized pot seller. On legalization day, the crown corporation opened 11 cannabis boutiques inside existing liquor stores, one stand-alone cannabis shop in Halifax and online sales.

What worked: When the shops opened in cities and towns around the province on Oct. 17, there were long lines as clerks handled almost 13,000 transactions and sold more than $660,000 in products. Those lines persisted at some locations for several days.

NSLC spokesperson Beverly Ware said in an email that the corporation was “very pleased with the implementation” and that it answered the public’s demand for local producers shortly after legalization. There weren’t any local licensed producers in the province on Oct. 17, but two have since received the green light from Health Canada.

What didn’t work: Several NSLC cannabis stores closed early because of shortages.

As in Nova Scotia, the rest of Atlantic Canada opted for government-run cannabis retailers. New Brunswick’s retailer, Cannabis NB, faced similar supply challenges to the NSLC and recently laid off more than 60 employees from its 20 stores.

Cannabis NB spokesperson Marie-Andrée Bolduc told The Canadian Press that it was difficult to say whether the supply problems were linked to the layoffs.

“The decision is representative of normal new retail industry operations and long-term fiscal responsibility,” Bolduc said in an email.

Quebec

The process: The Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) runs 12 stores across the province, including three in Montreal and two in Quebec City. Customers can also purchase cannabis from its website.

What worked: The 12 stores were open by legalization day, and the website was live. The province’s website reported 53,300 online transactions and 84,850 in-store transactions in the first week of operation.

What didn’t work: Plagued by supply shortages, the stores are now only open Thursdays to Sundays. In addition, some customers reported receiving products with a unit weight lower than what was indicated on the packaging, according to the SQDC’s website.

Saskatchewan

The process: Operators for 51 retail cannabis stores were selected through a two-step process that combined an open request for proposals and a lottery.

Applicants that made it through the first screening phase, which looked at financial and inventory systems, were entered into the lottery to be eligible for a permit. Independent consulting firm KPMG monitored the process, according to the province’s website.

What worked: The advance planning meant a few stores were open on legalization day, The Canadian Press reported at the time.

What didn’t work: Not all of the 51 stores were open by then. Currently, only 17 are in operation; the rest are working through the permit process, and more should be issued in the coming weeks, according to a government spokesperson.

Manitoba

The process: A request for proposals went out in November 2017, looking for four initial companies. The province announced the successful retailers in February 2018.

The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba (LGCA) regulates, licenses, inspects and audits the industry, while the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation (MBLL) is in charge of processing and distribution, according to the province’s website.

The private sector operates all 16 retail locations across the province, including two in First Nations communities and 10 in Winnipeg, according to the government’s website.

What worked: In December, the province announced the private retailers were largely playing by the rules so far and none had been fined since legalization, The Canadian Press reported.

What didn’t work: MBLL said in October it expected supply shortages to last at least six months, as the province, along with others, is not receiving as much cannabis as it needs.

In December, the RCMP seized all cannabis from the Winnipeg-based company Bonify, saying they believed illegal cannabis had entered the market.

Nunavut

The only way to buy is to order online from private retailer Tweed, which doesn’t have any stores in Nunavut. The government did not immediately respond to a request for more detail.

Yukon

The government operates one cannabis shop in Whitehorse, as well as an online store. The government did not immediately respond to a request for more detail.

Northwest territories

The Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission regulates the distribution of alcohol and cannabis through mail order, an online store and five brick-and-mortar locations. The government did not immediately respond to a request for more detail.

With files from Joseph Hall, Kevin Maimann, Omar Mosleh, Taryn Grant, Cherise Seucharan and May Warren

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Ontario’s cannabis lottery will have just 25 winners. But is it a smart approach, or a golden ticket to nowhere?

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Combining at least two vices, aspiring pot merchants will enter a lottery Friday that will clear the way for a lucky 25 to open the province’s first cannabis stores in April.

The lottery, which will grant the winners first dibs at applying to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for recreational cannabis retail licences, has likely attracted thousands of entrants, industry experts say.

A display of products at a store in Denver. In Ontario, a lottery will grant 25 winners first dibs at applying to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for recreational cannabis retail licences.
A display of products at a store in Denver. In Ontario, a lottery will grant 25 winners first dibs at applying to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for recreational cannabis retail licences.  (Dustin Bradford / TNS file photo)

On Friday, the names of the winning people or companies will be drawn, says Ray Khanert, senior communications adviser with the commission. “And they will have five business days to commence their application process.”

Of the 25 winners, five will be able to open stores in Toronto, while only two will be serving the entire expanse of northern Ontario.

Khanert stresses the lottery — which began accepting entrants at 12:01 a.m. Monday — will not grant licences, but the mere right to seek one. And he says winners must subsequently prove to the commission they’ve made serious financial and planning commitments to their enterprises before they’ll be allowed to open a store — with a firm April 1 target.

Among other things, they must have obtained a $50,000 line of credit and committed to a non-refundable $6,000 licence application fee.

On top of this licence fee there’s a $4,000 charge, also non-refundable, for a retail store authorization application — which would set the location of their shop. But Khanert says many lottery winners may hold off on this until after Jan. 22, the last date Ontario municipalities can opt out of hosting cannabis stores.

Merchants who fail to open on time will face fines of $12,500 on day one and the same amount April 15. If still shuttered on May 1, they’ll be docked $25,000 — the fine money being drawn from the required line of credit.

Betty Konc was one of many who took part in the Port Colborne's open house on whether it should allow the sale of cannabis at retail stores within city limits. The deadline to opt out of bricks-and-mortar stores is Jan. 22.
Betty Konc was one of many who took part in the Port Colborne’s open house on whether it should allow the sale of cannabis at retail stores within city limits. The deadline to opt out of bricks-and-mortar stores is Jan. 22.  (James Culic/Metroland)

Khanert says the commission will deploy a large team to help any lottery winners who run into trouble, for example in securing the credit line. “This is all about doors opening in April.”

People convicted of some cannabis-related charges or members or supporters of criminal organizations are ineligible for retail licences.

A short waiting list of runners-up will be published alongside the winner’s roll, and they’ll be tapped to step in if any of the top 25 can’t meet licensing obligations, Khanert says.

Read More:

Store openings usher in new age of cannabis retail in Vancouver

Toronto, other cities say costs of legal cannabis will leave them millions of dollars short

Toronto council opts in on pot shops just as Ontario limits number to 25 because of supply shortage

But David Phillips, cannabis czar under the province’s former Liberal government, says he doubts any winners — no matter their industry or retail backgrounds — will be able to open by April 1.

“It’s a mountain too steep and too high for just about everybody,” says Phillips, who was acting head of the Ontario Cannabis Store under the former government. “Even the most prepared retail operators out there are really going to struggle to turn things around that quickly.”

Phillips, now a principal and general counsel with the public strategy firm Navigator Ltd., says the “golden ticket” winners will have to lease space, construct interiors, install security systems, buy inventory and hire and train staff — and the 10 weeks before April 1 will likely prove too short a time.

The software to run the lottery was developed specifically by the commission’s gaming laboratory, Khanert says. The lab “is quite expert in its field and in addition to that the fairness monitor KPMG (Canada) looked at it,” as well as another third party in the U.S.

Khanert says the commission did not keep a running tally of lottery entrants — who had until noon Wednesday to jump in — and will not publish results until the winners are revealed Friday evening or Saturday.

But an indication of the interest, he says, came Jan. 4 when about 3,000 people tuned in to the commission’s webinar the explaining the lottery.

Matei Olaru, CEO of the cannabis information and resource firm Lift & Co., says he’d assume entrants would run into the thousands, in large part because the stores are almost certain to be lucrative.

But Khanert says rules will prevent winners from making flips until the scheduled lottery period runs out Dec.18.

“Your selection is not transferable,” he says. “The name that is on the (lottery entry), whether that is an individual or a corporate entity, that must be the name that applies for the licence.”

A list of all entrants and where they placed in the lottery draw will also be published in the near future, Khanert says. This will be used to determine the order of later store openings until December, unless the province opens up the process beforehand, he says.

Lottery rules hold that companies and individuals — and any people or entities affiliated with them — are allowed only one entry in each of the five regions set up across the province. They can only win in one.

These include Toronto, allotted five stores; and the surrounding GTA regions, which have a total of six.

An East Region runs from Ottawa through Peterborough and cottage country (five stores); a West Region spreads out from Hamilton and Niagara, through to Lake Huron and up to Manitoulin (seven stores). Meanwhile, a North Region — which takes in the vast reaches from Nipissing over to Thunder Bay — will have a total of two.

The province had envisioned a free-for-all April opening, with any merchant who met licensing criteria able to open stores virtually anywhere. But an unexpected lack of product caused Premier Doug Ford’s government on Dec. 13 to drastically pare that back to 25 and introduce the lottery scheme.

The move was applauded by some industry players, scorned by others.

“The Ontario government was extraordinarily reckless,” says Darren Bondar, president and CEO of the cannabis store franchisor Inner Spirit Holdings. “This lottery process, where anybody and their dog can apply for $75 (the lottery entrance fee) is a complete farce,” says Bondar, whose company runs some 20 pot stores in Western Canada.

Bondar says the former, unlimited licensing rules lured companies such as his into planning and financial commitments. And the abrupt switch, he says, left his company holding about 30 superfluous leases across Ontario.

“It put a lot of companies in a very difficult position,” says Bondar, who has not decided whether to quit the leases or open cannabis accessory shops in the locations until the supply shortages end and licensing regulations are loosened.

But Omar Khan, vice-president of public affairs with Hill + Knowlton Strategies Canada, says the measured store rollout is justified given supply shortages and that it will help Ontario avoid the disastrous openings experienced in other provinces — where shops have gone bust due to insufficient wares.

“I think the government generally has moved in a cautious but appropriate direction here,” says Khan, whose company advises clients in the cannabis industry.

Nearly empty shelves greet customers at a Montreal cannabis store on Dec. 13, as supply shortages have posed a problem for retailers across Canada.
Nearly empty shelves greet customers at a Montreal cannabis store on Dec. 13, as supply shortages have posed a problem for retailers across Canada.  (Ryan Remiorz)

Although the lottery helped the government avoid any perception of favouritism, Khan says when supplies recover, the province should move away from strict adherence to to the list of all entrants.

But Toronto lawyer Matt Maurer says Ontario might have been better off opening stores with the understanding they may not have any cannabis to sell.

“I think that’s one model and I don’t see anything wrong with that,” says Maurer, who has a cannabis practice at Torkin Manes LLP. “Go ahead and open your stores, we can’t promise you anything, but as soon as the supply crunch is alleviated you’ll have the supplies.”

Maurer says this model would favour deep-pocketed businesses who could better weather supply shortages. He says large, experienced firms can more likely deal efficiently with the heavy regulatory burden on the stores.

“It’s one thing to encourage small business, it’s another thing to allow people who have had no business experience at all suddenly walk in and try to open these stores,” he says.

Olaru, the Lift CEO, says that the province’s go-slow strategy with the stores is appropriate and reflects the approach new cannabis users should take with the drug.

“If you think about what you hear about cannabis it’s start-low (in THC concentration) and go-slow with consumption,” he says.

“And perhaps ‘start low, go slow’ with cannabis retail is also a prudent approach.”

Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter and feature writer. Reach him on email: gjhall@thestar.ca

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Unclaimed lottery ticket sold in Hamilton worth $10K – Hamilton

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Check your wallet, your purse and your dresser drawers: someone in Hamilton has an old lottery ticket worth about $10,000.

But here’s the catch: you only have two more weeks left to claim it.


READ MORE:
Meet Hamilton’s newest lottery millionaires

According to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), the winning LOTTARIO ticket was sold in the city nearly a year ago on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018.

The winning numbers were 10 – 15 – 23 – 30 – 39 – 42 with bonus number 32.

Players have one year from the original draw date to claim their prize.


READ MORE:
Hamilton grandmother of nine celebrating lottery win

That means the owner(s) of this ticket should fill in the back portion, sign it and contact the OLG Prize Centre at 20 Dundas St. W. in Toronto before 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 21 to claim their prize.

Information about this and other unclaimed tickets is available by visiting the Unclaimed Tickets page on OLG.ca.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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‘We are trying to explain … we don’t make this kind of money,’ says couple who won, then lost, a housing lottery

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Sarah Bankuti was eight months pregnant and had been hospitalized for a health scare when she got news that should have changed her growing family’s life for the better: they had been randomly selected out of thousands of people to apply to move into a new affordable rental building in Regent Park.

Toronto Community Housing, they were told by email, had pulled their names in a housing lottery of sorts and if they cleared the next round of paperwork they would move out of their cramped one bedroom in the east end and into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in March and pay just $1,358 a month.

It was welcome news during a frightening time. They were in Michael Garron Hospital and she had been hooked to multiple monitors because their baby girl hadn’t moved for two days. Then they read the Oct. 26 email.

“The baby started kicking right away,” says Bankuti, 33. “We were so happy, because we couldn’t believe we got picked.”

This wasn’t their only reason to celebrate. Her husband, John Bankuti, 36, started a new job with Canada Post in August. His last job was as a dog-walker. He is now a full-time relief letter carrier. Training started in mid-August and in the fall he received a minor bump in overtime pay as well as hundreds in bonus pay for delivering flyers and Christmas catalogues.

They’d entered the lottery on a whim in September, filling out a simple one page form that outlined the maximum gross income to be considered. After winning, they filled out detailed paperwork, attached pay stubs from September and October and planned for the future.

But that elation didn’t last. Bankuti got another email from TCH early in December informing them the pay stubs they submitted showed their combined gross income was roughly $15,000 above the $65,184 threshold for a 3-bedroom unit and they were being pulled from the list. There is no option to appeal.

The couple insists that even with his new job their combined annual gross income, particularly because she was going on maternity leave, is not guaranteed to exceed the threshold. They believe their gross income will actually be less, they told the Star.

“We would be fine with it if they denied us for a valid reason. We are not unreasonable people,” says Bankuti, who works as a nanny and spoke with the Star on Wednesday, two days before a scheduled C-section. “I find it impossible that there is no appeal process,” for people whose income is not guaranteed, or who could have a sudden surge in income at different times of the year, she says.

“If I knew that I would have told my husband to not get this job.”

A full-time relief carrier, Canada Post confirmed, at that early salary level makes at least roughly $42,500 gross each year. The slips Bankuti submitted also included an inflated gross of several hundred dollars from the extra hours and flyer delivery. Her pay slips showed she made a gross income of about $27,060 by the end of November. Together, even without his extra pay, that still puts them over the threshold, but her salary is never guaranteed, she says, and on maternity leave she’ll take in about 55 per cent of whatever her weekly income is.

They reached out to Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s office and a representative from that office contacted TCH to find out if appeals were an option. They were told it was not but that housing staff considered everything they were sent.

Toronto Community Housing, who had reviewed their pay stubs multiple times including additional ones they were sent in November, says people are judged on what they are making at the time of the application and those slips clearly show they do not qualify.

The couple have offered to provide TCH with past and future tax returns, additional payslips and letters of employment to defend their case — but those offers have been rejected.

A spokesperson for the housing corporation told the Star that there is no formal appeal process and overtime and bonuses are factored into the equation.

“All applicants are assessed for eligibility and must meet the income criteria for the program at the time of application; past and future earning potential is not considered,” says Daniele Gauvin, a senior communications adviser with the housing corporation in an email. “The documents submitted by the Bankuti household showed that their household income exceeded the eligibility limit for a three-bedroom unit at 110 River Street.”

Bankuti met with the Star in her narrow one-bedroom apartment near Gerrard St. E. and Greewood Ave. She and her husband pay $1,350 a month and share the space with his 4-year-old daughter Gwendolyn, who lives with them part time, and a mini-dachshund cross named Tiberius.

When the little girl stays with them she sleeps on a pullout couch in the living room. Tiberius and his bed are small but the narrow layout means he, the bed and the stuffed shark he sleeps with are underfoot. The baby will sleep in the bedroom, currently packed with a bassinet, a double bed and a chest of drawers from Ikea that serves as a changing table.

Bankuti bought it after Googling “how to have a baby in a small area.”

What would have been their new home was 110 River St., a brand new 29-storey building in the heart of the largely redeveloped neighbourhood of Regent Park.

With close to 2,780 people eligible to apply for 75 units they never thought they had a chance at winning and, they say, honestly believed that even with his new job they were not guaranteed to exceed $65,184.

In a city facing a severe lack of affordable housing the lottery the couple entered was framed as one way that people trying to survive on lower incomes could get ahead, which in Toronto means skipping the centralized wait list.

The current wait list for subsidized housing in Toronto — which includes Toronto Community Housing, co-operatives and private non-profit housing — is close to 99,000 households and about one-third of those waiting are seniors.

The River St. building is close to a new recreation centre and the TTC, and the rent is fixed. Three-bedroom units are $1,358, two-bedrooms are $1,141 and one-bedroom units cost $962. Utilities are included.

Average market rents for a three-bedroom purpose-built rentals in the Census Metropolitan Area is $1,633, according to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Those figures use occupied units — landlords can charge what they want for newly empty units — and don’t factor in pricier options like condominiums. Research firm Urbanation recently published a report showing that the average cost of renting a studio condominium averaged $1,800 and a two-bedroom condominium went for about $2,700.

The Bankuti family has been on a wait list for a two-bedroom in co-operative housing for about a year but has been told they could be waiting anywhere from two to five years.

He says they haven’t given up entirely on pleading their case to get into an affordable home. “We are trying to explain in an open way that we don’t make this kind of money.”

For now he is looking forward to meeting their new daughter and working for a company he respects. She is deeply concerned about whether she will be able to take on work after the baby is born. Two children she regularly cared for are moving, upsetting her plans to bring her new baby along when she’s caring for them, she says.

Both know they can’t afford to move.

“Two bedrooms are so expensive now and especially because I am going to be on maternity leave we literally can’t afford anything else,” she says.

With files from Donovan Vincent

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

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Class action over video lottery terminals gets green light in Newfoundland

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An intriguing court case that alleges Crown-owned video lottery terminals are inherently deceptive and violate the Criminal Code has reached a critical milestone in Newfoundland and Labrador.

And the outcome of the case could have implications for VLT gaming across Canada.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal has cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit to go ahead, rejecting arguments for dismissal from the Atlantic Lottery Corp., which operates in all four Atlantic provinces.

READ: Nova Scotia in tax fight with federal government over lottery terminals on reserves

“VLTs are inherently deceptive, inherently addictive and inherently dangerous when used as intended,” says a statement of claim filed in 2012. The lawsuit was certified as a class action in early 2017.

Among other things, it alleges VLTs should be considered illegal because they don’t fit the Criminal Code definitions for slot machines, fair games of chance or lottery schemes.

More importantly, the plaintiffs allege VLTs more closely resemble a gambling card game known as three-card monte, which at first glance appears to be a straight-forward test of tracking one of three cards as they are moved about.

The lawsuit argues the sleight-of-hand tricks used in this con game are not unlike the manipulative electronic programming VLTs use to create “cognitive distortions” about the perception of winning.

Toronto-based lawyer Kirk Baert, who represents plaintiffs Douglas Babstock and Fred Small, said the appeal court accepted that as a potential legal argument.

“The point of having this provision in the Criminal Code … was to prevent people from being deceived by charlatans and tricksters who use sleight-of-hand to make people lose their money,” Baert said in an interview.

“Our point is that technology has evolved, and this is just the same thing – but it’s being done through a machine instead of a human being at a table or at a carnival.”

WATCH: AG report puts spotlight on gambling awareness agency






None of the allegations has been proven in court.

The Atlantic Lottery Corp. has insisted the highly regulated electronic games are decided only by chance.

In its ruling last week, the appeal court effectively rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that the use of VLTs violate the federal Competition Act and a British law from 1710 known as the Statute of Anne, which was aimed at preventing deceitful gaming but fell into disuse.

The corporation has yet to say whether it will seek an appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Aside from Babstock and Small, who are both retirees, those included in the class action are as many as 30,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador who paid the lottery corporation to gamble on VLT games any time after April 2006.

The lawsuit is seeking damages equal to the alleged unlawful gain obtained by the corporation through VLT revenue.

As well, the plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would bar the corporation from using VLTs, based on the assertion that the terminals do not constitute a permitted lottery under federal law.

If the lawsuit is successful, similar claims could be filed across Canada.

READ MORE: NS gambling revenues jump 2 years after prevention program cancelled

Citing a third-party study, the lawsuit says the odds of winning the $500 maximum prize from a VLT in Newfoundland and Labrador are roughly 270,000 to 1, which would mean a long-term player would likely lose about $30,000 before hitting the jackpot.

The statement of claim goes on to allege VLTs employ what is called “subliminal priming” to induce players to hyper-focus “and to create a dangerous dissociative mental state, wherein players cannot make rational decisions to continue to play or not.”

The goal is to leave players “mesmerized,” in the same way those duped by the three-card monte ruse can hardly believe their eyes, Baert said.

“It’s predetermined that you will lose,” he said. “The more you play, the more you lose.”

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Stoney Creek father wins $75K with instant lottery ticket – Hamilton

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A Stoney Creek father of four is celebrating a recent lottery win.


READ MORE:
Millennials uninterested in gambling

Selvir Peckovic won a $75,000 top prize with Instant Reindeer Games.

He plans to use the money to buy his son a new vehicle and help his family.


READ MORE:
Couple cleans up their house, finds a winning lottery ticket

The winning ticket was purchased at the Fortinos on Upper Centennial Parkway.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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