Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

$50-million lottery winner found despite all odds

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The chances of winning a Lotto Max jackpot are one in 28.6 million. Until this week, it looked -- at least to the public -- that the chances of finding the winner of an unclaimed $50-million prize from 2012 were even slimmer.

But when Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. officials sprang the news last week that the year-long mystery was solved, the big surprise was how a mixture of detective work and dogged determination ended up uniting that major lotto jackpot with its rightful winner -- 55-year-old Kathryn Jones of Hamilton.

Jones, an engineer who works in Cambridge, bought the ticket for the Nov. 30, 2012 draw from a Shoppers Drug Mart on Dundas Street in that city. Then the ticket disappeared, never to surface again. But the appetite by lottery officials for tracking down the winner never waned, and for that, we're appreciative.

The lottery corporation is not without its critics and controversies, such as its moves to expand the number of casinos it operates in Ontario. These have included pitches to establish one in the Waterloo Region.

But in this instance, the corporation did the right thing and did it with aplomb.

Some noses will be out of joint that a lottery win -- let alone one of this magnitude -- was declared even though a ticket wasn't there to verify it. But there is no room for quibbling. Jones, the mother of two university-aged children, is the winner fair and square. There's the credit card receipt for the $16 worth of lotto tickets she purchased that fortunate day to prove it. There's the video surveillance tape from the store showing her buying them. And the answers she gave investigators all checked out.

The lottery corporation also did its due diligence by checking up on Jones's sister, who runs a store where lottery tickets are sold, to see if there were any irregularities. There were none.

The centennial year was a watershed year for Canada in numerous ways, not the least of which was bringing our approach to gambling into the 20th century. Prior to 1967, purchasing an Irish Sweepstakes ticket that had been stealthily brought into the country was strictly prohibited. That lottery helped finance Irish hospitals.

With rule changes in Canada, it wasn't long before the provinces and the federal government sensed there was a hunger here that was worth exploiting, while producing a new revenue stream. Quebec was first out of the gate in 1970, and the feds' first foray into the field came in the late 1970s when it ran a lottery where the proceeds went to pay down the astronomical debt of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

Today, buying lottery tickets is as commonplace as buying a pack of gum. It's not exceedingly surprising, then, that one of those tickets -- even one with a $50-million payout -- could go astray. But it's enormously gratifying to know in the case of a major unclaimed prize, lottery officials will go above and beyond to puzzle it out.

Jones and her husband, Richard, won't officially receive their winnings until the week between Christmas and New Year's. It's tough to think of a better holiday gift.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2013 A8

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