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OLG in 'preliminary discussions' with holder of $48M lotto ticket

A financial planner who represents previous lottery winners says he has one major recommendation for the yet-to-be-named ticket holder: take it slow
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One of the biggest winning tickets in Lotto 6/49 history — which was recently purchased in Sault Ste. Marie — has been validated but not yet claimed.

Toni Bitonti, a spokesman for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), said the $48-million winning numbers were validated at a retail location after the draw, and that the OLG has had “preliminary discussions” with the person believed to hold the ticket.

Bitonti said when any winning ticket is validated at a retail location with a prize of $5,000 or more, it triggers a more involved claim process.

“The machine freezes, it gets in contact with the OLG support centre and we speak to the retailer and we speak to the customer who is in front there,” said Bitonti. “We have had some preliminary discussions with the person we believe is the ticket holder. We can’t call them a winner yet, because they have to go through the prize claim process.”

The largest-ever 6/49 win was $64-million, Bitonti said, but this $48-million jackpot is one of the largest-ever won on that game and only the second won under the new “Gold Ball” format launched in September.

“It’s been quite a while since the 6/49 jackpot has risen this high,” he said.

A financial planner who represents previous lottery winners says he has one major recommendation for the yet-to-be-named jackpot winner: take it slow.

Stephan Desbiens is a partner and associate portfolio manager at Ottawa-based Exponent Investment Management. Four of his clients are big lottery winners and Desbiens said he has learned a few things while representing them.

His first piece of advice? Keep the win as quiet as possible.

“The idea is to be very careful in terms of your emotions and making sure you don’t rush out to tell a whole bunch of people,” he said. “Identify your inner circle and keep it within that circle.”

Also, don’t make any promises.

“That’s probably one of the most important points, is don’t make any promises to anyone — including family. It is a lot of money and you can do a lot of amazing things with it, but you can also slow down and think about things.”

He recalls one client and their family who won a large lottery prize and reached out for his advice.

“They sat in my office for four hours crying, overwhelmed and overcome with emotion,” he said.

Desbiens said once a lottery winner’s identity is known, all kinds of phone calls start coming in.

“They will come from investment people, they will come from old friends, they will come from lost family and they will come from shysters. To me, I know they will come because I have dealt with it,” he said. 

In some cases, winners cut off the phone line altogether or assign a trusted person to be a gatekeeper to take the calls.

“That way it’s not you that is saying no to people who will get their nose out of joint and friendships get lost over that amount of money,” said Desbiens.

Some winners don’t realize they have won a prize right away, but Desbiens doesn’t expect that is the case this time.

“Usually when you’re in the Sault and the announced a $48-million winning ticket, people will probably rush to check it, so I assume by now the winner knows,” he said.

With very few people aware of the win, Desbiens recommends signing the ticket and securing it in a safe or in a bank’s safety deposit box.

“It seems a little overthought, perhaps, but what if? What if you put it in your wallet and lose it or you leave home and somebody finds the ticket and throws it away accidentally? Stuff happens, and that’s why there are a lot of unclaimed prizes,” he said.

At this point, Desbiens recommends speaking to a financial planner before the ticket is even claimed to make a plan for the money.

“If I was the portfolio manager sitting down with the client, I would rather tell them to not do anything with this money. If you have plans to gift it, make sure it’s done smartly. If you have plans to buy a house or a boat or this and that — go for it, it’s your money,” he said.

When it comes to huge windfalls like this, Desbiens said there is no rush to start investing the money.

“I think it would be important to just leave it in cash for a while. I would be prepared to say for up to a year,” he said. “You could live off just the cash for the rest of your life. Getting an investment with a return is something that bankers and investment people will be interested in doing for you because it generates fees.”

“I would take the approach to get you into a good state of mind to make good decisions and the investment side of things can wait — but that’s me,” he added.

Another important call at this point in the process is to a lawyer to draft up a will.

“If you haven’t cashed your ticket your will becomes an important part of the puzzle because if you didn’t have one before it would be awful to not have claimed the ticket and been hit by a bus, but if you have a will that is taken care of,” said Desbiens.

“Once you’re are good and ready, that’s when you go and claim your ticket and you know what to expect, you have a plan for it, you have an answer for the questions that come, you have an answer for the phone calls that will come,” he said.

Bitonti said there is a two-day process for claiming a large jackpot as big as the one announced Saturday. The winner or winners must travel to the OLG prize centre in Toronto to begin the process.

The winner or winners can't be named and the location where the ticket was purchased or validated can't be confirmed at this time because those details are a part of the prize claiming process, said Bitonti.

“We can’t deviate from those processes, just because we are dealing with a lot of money here," he said. "When we are dealing with $30, $40, $50, $70-million, we need to make sure we are paying the right person the right prize."


Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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