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Police probe Bombers' 50/50 cash draws

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WINNIPEG police are investigating allegations that 50/50 cash draws at Winnipeg Blue Bombers' games in 2001 and 2002 may have been rigged.

One person has been arrested and charged in what police and the Manitoba Gaming Control Commission (MGCC) allege was a scam involving thousands of dollars in prize money.

Draws this season were not affected. The Bombers, with the aid of the commission, beefed up security measures to protect the integrity of the draws in 2003.

The Bombers confirmed yesterday that a person has been arrested and charged, although no name was released yesterday.

Gord Cooke, president of the Winnipeg Rifles football club, said the accused is a former volunteer with the junior team.

The Rifles derive much of their operating revenue from selling 50/50 tickets at Blue Bomber home games.

No one currently associated with the Rifles or the CFL's Blue Bombers has been implicated in the investigation.

"I'm just shocked and amazed," said Cooke. "Informally, I thought something was suspicious in my own mind ... because they didn't want (the accused) involved any more (following the 2002 season) ...

"But no one contacted me, so I had no inkling.

"This person has nothing to do with our organization now."

The Bombers' 50/50 draw is licenced by the MGCC.

As many as 10,000 $2 tickets are sold at Canad Inns Stadium during home games, with half the prize handed out to the winner and the other half shared by the Bombers and amateur football in the province.

The police offered few additional details on the investigation yesterday.

"There is an allegation of misappropriation of 50/50 funds for Bomber games, and that's it," said Const. Bob Johnson. "It goes back a few years."

Andrea Kowal, spokeswoman for the MGCC, said last night MGCC inspectors noticed "irregularities" with the 50/50 draw, and began an investigation.

"The Blue Bombers co-operated fully," Kowal said. "Something was odd and raised a red flag with our investigators."

Bomber president and CEO Lyle Bauer stressed yesterday that no one associated with the Bombers is being investigated.

"No one with our football club has been implicated in this situation," he said.

Bauer said that, because of the allegations, significant changes were made for 2003.

"The draws are live on the Jumbo-tron. There is proper verification, and we publish the winners photos and names," he said. "We have MGCC inspectors on site during the draw.

"We've taken great strides to ensure the integrity of our draws, and we feel comfortable with the way things are being handled."

By the end of the 2003 seasons, the Bombers will have generated $150,000 for minor football through the 50/50 draws, said Bauer, adding he's not anticipating a backlash from regular ticket buyers.

Young football players from across the province, including members of the Rifles, sell tickets during Blue Bomber games.

"We've called a special board meeting (for tomorrow) to put our heads together and discuss this," said Cooke. "We're in protection mode right now, because we don't need this.

"People work their butts off to help young athletes play, and then a thing like this happens. It's close to home for us.

"I just hope fans don't boycott draws altogether. "

The executive director of Football Manitoba also hopes the bad publicity doesn't hurt future ticket sales.

"It would be naive not to be concerned," said Rob Berkowits. "I hope improprieties in the past won't damage our ability to raise money."

Other organizations hope the alleged scam doesn't cast a pall over all 50/50 draws.

"I certainly hope not, because it's really become imbedded in our sports fundraising culture," said Kim Davis, commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. "It's a relatively easy fundraising concept, so there's no big sell job involved.

"But it certainly gives everyone a moment to reflect on how we're running our draws."

At least one longtime Bomber season-ticket holder said she'll continue to buy 50/50 tickets.

"It sucks, because it sounds like we never really had a chance to win the last few years," she said. "But they say they have it straightened out this year, and I believe them."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 23, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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