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Lotto Max winners must wait for $50-million payout because they were lottery retailers Add to ...

An Ontario couple will have to wait more than a month before they can collect the $50-million jackpot they won last week because they owned and operated a store that sold lottery tickets within the past year.

JoAnn and Gaetan Champagne held the winning ticket for the Lotto Max draw on Dec. 30, 2011.

The Champagnes owned Jo’s Depanneur in Hawkesbury until October 2011, and JoAnn Champagne continued to work in the store part-time after it was sold. Because of rules governing lottery retailers, their win will be subject to a review by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

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Lottery retailers are allowed to play the lottery, but they can’t buy or validate their tickets at their own store. And anyone who wins a major prize and who also sold tickets within the past year is subject to an OLG review called the Insider Wins process.

The Champagnes, who were in Toronto to start the claim process on Wednesday, said they won the prize on a free ticket.

Mr. Champagne redeemed his old ticket at a Hawkesbury Pharmaprix in December for the free-play ticket that turned out to be the jackpot winner.

When the couple checked the numbers at another convenience store on New Year’s Eve, both initially thought they had won $50,000. They said it took an excited cashier to point out that their ticket was actually worth much more. “She said there’s too many zeros there,” Ms. Champagne said.

“That’s when we knew it was real,” her husband added.

Ms. Champagne tucked the ticket away in her boot, inside the sock, and the couple drove to the Rideau Carleton Raceway in Ottawa to validate it.

“Everybody says if you win big, go to the Rideau,” Ms. Champagne said. The pair has been playing the lottery for 30 years – ever since they got married.

Immediately after putting their ticket into a Lotto machine at the racetrack, the Champagnes got a call from the OLG, a standard procedure for tickets worth $5,000 or more.

Tony Bitonti, a spokesman for the OLG, said the couple reported their insider status to the OLG from the beginning and was aware of the process they’d have to go through as recent lottery retailers.

“The good news about these folks is that they were very aware of what the policy was,” Mr. Bitonti said.

He said the OLG will review the win, and then pass the investigation off to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for another round of scrutiny, a process that could take several weeks. If the couple isn't disqualified during the review, the corporation will hold the money for another 30 days to allow anyone to come forward with concerns about their win.

“Basically, this is fairly routine for us, when it comes to retailers, except that there’s $50-million on the line,” Mr. Bitonti said.

He said that in the Champagnes’s case, it will likely take between six weeks and two months for the couple to get their money. Until that time, the OLG considers the pair “prize claimants,” not winners.

Lottery retailers have been subject to review for years, Mr. Bitonti said, but the process was strengthened in 2009 when a new “No Play at Work” rule came into effect that barred retailers from buying, checking or redeeming tickets at their own stores.

The policy was created following a 2007 report by Ontario Ombudsman André Marin that found retailers had collected millions of dollars in “dishonest” lottery prizes.

One of the most well-known examples is that of Kathleen Chung, from Burlington, Ont., who claimed a $12.5-million Super 7 prize on a free ticket. The OLG later discovered the woman’s brother and father ran the convenience store the free play ticket came from, but paid her the money anyway after the ticket expired, according to Mr. Marin.

Police allege Ms. Chung’s father and brother stole the free ticket from a customer and gave it to her to cash in. The OLG still hasn’t recovered the money.

The Champagnes said they knew to expect a review of their winnings, and they aren’t concerned because their winning ticket didn’t come from the store they once operated.

The couple said they’ll go ahead with a planned vacation to the Dominican Republic next week, and then take some more time to think about what to do with the winnings. In addition to sharing with their two adult sons, the Champagnes say they will give some of the money to the Hawkesbury food bank, which was robbed last month.

Follow on Twitter: @kimmackrael

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