Charities and supporters shocked as Gaming Commission shuts down online 50/50s

The jackpot that started it all. Glencoe Agriculture Association handed over a cheque for over $185,000 after their online 50/50 lottery run by The Lottery Factory took off in September. Many local charities turned to the organization hoping to reap the same rewards. Thursday, dozens of draws were made prematurely after the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario ordered the company to stop running events without a license.

Brigden Fair $70,000 pot drawn five days early

Heather Wright/The Independent

There is anger, confusion and a lot of disappointment across Lambton after the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario – AGCO – pulled the plug on a number of online 50/50 draws in Ontario.

The Moore Agriculture Society, the Wyoming Lions, Lambton County Developmental Services, the Forest Fall Fair, and four charities from Brooke-Alvinston – The Optimists, the Agricultural Society, the Legion and the Fire Association – received notice by email last night that their 50/50 fundraisers were drawn and the events were over.

The winners were notified and all ticket holders notified by email the event was completed.

The groups all used a New Brunswick based company called The Lotto Factory. It caught the attention of charities looking for safe ways to raise money during the pandemic after the Glencoe Agricultural Society’s 50/50 went viral in September. It’s jackpot reached an unbelievable $388,806. It was a godsend after a year of disappointment and would keep the rural fair afloat.

Agricultural societies – and several other charities – took notice and soon, The Lottery Factory was holding 50/50s all around southern Ontario.

But it also caught the attention of the AGCO and on Wednesday, it issued a news release saying the New Brunswick based company didn’t have a licence to operate in Ontario. “Given a number of recent inquiries received, the AGCO wishes to clarify that The Lotto Factory (TLF Global Ltd.) is not currently registered by the AGCO as a Gaming-Related Supplier,” it said in a bulletin on its website Nov. 25.

“The use of registered suppliers and their approved solutions ensures charitable raffles in Ontario are conducted and managed in accordance with the principles of honesty, integrity and in the broader public interest.”

The day after the notice was issued, The Lotto Factory decided to draw winners for dozens of charities across Ontario who were in the middle of draws without notifying the groups.

The sudden draws shocked the charities and the people who bought tickets. The Moore Agricultural Society was inching close to its Dec. 1 draw. The jackpot had climbed to nearly $71,000. Ag Society President Malcolm Rogers says they were hoping by Tuesday, the jackpot would have grown to over $100,000. “It was a way to offset some of our expenses for the fair we weren’t able to have this year,” he tells The Independent.

The Brigden Fair, like every other fall fair, was cancelled because of limits on the number of people gathering in one place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rogers says the agricultural society was told the draw had to be made immediately or the money would be tied up as The Lotto Factory worked through the regulatory mess. Drawing for the $70,540 pot was the only way to make sure the money went to the winner and the ag society.

“Everybody is disappointed,” he says.

The ag society’s social media lit up with concern and complaints after ticket holders were notified. “I hope the Brigden Fair gets their money. If not, everyone better get ready for a class action lawsuit,” wrote Leanne Smith.

Others were critical of The Lotto Factory; “You would think they would have given the fair grounds a heads up,” wrote Joanne Derry. “Not fair to them (the Brigden Fair) either, this may have repercussions for them down the road. I really hope it doesn’t they are a great organization.”

“We were as disappointed as anyone,” says Rogers. “If this had gone to $100,000 or $120,000…it would have been very good.”

In Alvinston, Chad Hayter of the Optimist Club was caught off guard. He was heading down to a local restaurant to sell some of the tickets in person when he got a call asking why he couldn’t buy the tickets online.

“I opened up my email and it said nine minutes ago they had made the draw,” says Hayter.

Hayter has organized 50/50 draws for years for his club and he was excited about this online event. Typically, he says, residents will by about $7 or $10 worth of tickets in person. Online, they were buying about $33 on average.

The four charities started the draw about a month ago and the jackpot was well over $5,000 with more than a month to go. “It was trending to be a pretty good pot,” he says. “When you look at what other groups did online, we were in really good shape to hit a pretty good number…About 175 people bought a ticket already and we really hadn’t made our big push yet.”

Hayter says he heard about The Lotto Factory in August – when Glencoe Fair was doing its 50/50. He took on the organizing the online event for the Optimists and three other charities. The company, he says, was professional and great to work with.

He did ask about how The Lotto Factory could run the 50/50s for Ontario charities out of New Brunswick, but was told they had a federal license to operate. So, The Optimists moved ahead.

The Alvinston group is meeting this weekend to figure out if they will run another 50/50. There are four companies approved by the ACGO to run online lotteries.

And Hayter expects to be talking to the head of The Lotto Factory today. He’s been told the charities will receive all their money as the contract states.

Rogers wasn’t sure exactly what the Moore Ag Society would do. There were still weekly draws – set up through The Lottery Factory by the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions – which some local ticket holders have questions about – questions he doesn’t have answers for.

“We did lear a lesson out of this and we will have to look at it a little closer the next time,” says Rogers.

The Independent reached out to the president of The Lotto Factory, but so far, Ric Cuthbertson has not returned our calls.