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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lotto Protocol

I've found myself curiously reading about the scandal involving lotteries in Ontario. I find myself wondering how this sort of thing could happen, so I thought back to when I had jobs that included selling lottery tickets (though never in Ontario, the system is the same across Canada). I would've thought it extremely difficult, IMO, for a ticket seller to cheat on lotto winnings. I think, however, I can see where the breakdown happens.

This is what *should* be happening.

When a customer comes to me with a ticket to check, this is what I, the seller/checker, should be doing. In full view of the customer, I press the validate button on the terminal, then use the scanner to read the bar code. If it's a scratch ticket, I will then need to manually key in the last 4 digits, which are placed somewhat randomly under the scratch coating. In fact, if you have a scratch ticket, all you need are those last 4 numbers. I've had customers in a hurry scratch only those numbers, then get me to validate the ticket to see if it was a winner. Yes, some even have been.

Once scanned, the terminal then prints out a stub. Winner or not, it is written on the stub. I then take the ticket and the stub and show it to the customer, telling them if they won or not. If there are a number of tickets to check, I put the winning tickets and their stubs in one pile, non-winners and their stubs in the other, telling the customer of any wins (or not) as they are being checked. I then offer the stubs to the customer.

If I get a winning ticket under a certain amount (how much depends on the seller and how much cash they have on hand), I pay off the customer in either cash or tickets, depending on what the customer won or chooses. The winning ticket, and its stub, is then put together and set aside. With larger wins, the ticket and stub are given to the customer, who then has to call the Lottery Corp. to make arrangements for the payout themselves.

Loosing tickets, and their stubs, are returned to the customer and/or thrown out.

At the end of the day, when the terminal is shut down for the night, there are print outs that detail exactly how many tickets were sold, how many wins there were, and what payouts occurred. The winning stubs are tabulated and must correspond with that print out. The retailers get a portion of the sales, as well as a percentage of wins, so they *should* be very particular about this. I was rather taken aback at my last job when I found out they tossed the tickets and stubs for winnings under $10. Slack as it was, however, it makes no difference to the winning customer, as they've already had their payout processed.

This, I believe, is where the breakdown happens. Most customers never bother looking at the loosing stubs when I offer them, instead telling me to throw them out. When a customer wins, they can keep the original print out. A second copy, or a retailer copy, can be printed out for the retailer to keep with the winning ticket. I've never had a customer keep their winning ticket stub, though I've had some customers take their pile of validated tickets and stubs home with them. The vast majority, however, never look at their stubs. Since they have generally watched me checking the tickets, that's not usually a problem, but not all terminals are set up in full view of the customer as the ones I've worked at.

Whatever the set up, the clerk *must* offer the stubs and tickets to the customer, win or loose. This is part of the lottery procedure. If the clerk does not offer you the ticket and stub, they should be. I can see how, with most customers not bothering to look and saying to throw them out, a lot of clerks would stop offering. Unethical clerks might take advantage of that trust. If the terminal is not easily visible, I can see how someone can have a loosing stub on the side that they can switch.

So what can a customer do to prevent this? Well, the easiest thing is to check your numbers before having them verified at the terminal. I don't buy lottery tickets often, but when I do, I check the numbers online. Major newspapers print them out. Also, every morning when opening the lottery terminal, winning numbers for various draws are printed out and put on display at the kiosk where people can get slips to choose their own numbers.

Any jackpot lotto wins that have happened are also printed out when the terminal is opened, stating how much was won, how many winners there are, and what province the winning ticket has been sold in. This printout is kept by the terminal itself until the next day, when it's replaced by a new one. You can also ask for a print out of the winning numbers to be made and given to you. Any numbers printed out by the terminal are official numbers.

I can make mistakes when checking my numbers, so I will still take my lottery tickets and have them double checked at a terminal. Sometimes, I've been surprised and found I've missed a $2 win or something. Mostly, though, they're non-winners, and since I've already checked them, I usually tell the clerk to toss them, too. I tend to buy my tickets at the same places, so there's also a familiarity with the clerk or owner.

The thing to remember is that there is a very specific procedure that sellers are supposed to follow that ensures this sort of fraud doesn't happen. The average customer, however, probably has no idea what that is. Why would they?

So the next time you want to check your tickets, you can keep this in mind.

If possible, check the numbers yourself, either online at the lottery website or at the kiosk (newspapers and online news sites are good too, but sometimes they make mistakes. Official numbers are at the lottery corp. website, or the terminal printouts). Then take the ticket to the terminal to have it verified.

The terminal should be mostly visible (obviously, you won't always be able to see behind the counter completely). The printer and scanner is usually right next to the terminal and, watching the clerk, you should be able to see that the clerk is validating your ticket and removing the printout from the printer, not from someplace else.

The clerk should inform you of the win or loss and offer you the ticket and stub back.

Go ahead and take the loosing ticket and printout. It doesn't hurt to double check and throw them out later, or even just glance at them at the counter, then ask the clerk to throw them out. Most lotto kiosks will have a garbage can in it you can use, too. I, personally, would've preferred my customers did take their stubs. You wouldn't believe how quickly the garbage cans behind the counter fills up with loosing tickets and their stubs.

Or, you can take my favorite route. Buy/validate your tickets from the same business(es) as much as possible. When we do buy them, I like to buy them from the convenience store in our building. Why? Because I've gotten to know the owner a bit and I really like her. If we ever won a jackpot, I would love for her to get a percentage of those winnings!

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