olg lottery

Toronto convenience store worker wonders why Ontario hasn't shut down the lottery

A week into the two-week province-mandated closure of non-essential businesses in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, one convenience store employee is wondering why the physical sale of lottery tickets hasn’t been suspended yet.

A convenience store’s assistant manager who would like to remain anonymous says he’s seen an influx of customers wanting to buy lottery tickets recently, at a time when Torontonians have been advised to stay home and practice social distancing by Toronto Public Health.

“Right now, the [amount of] tickets we are selling is double than [what] we actually used to sell,” he says.

When customers buy a scratch ticket, they stay in the store as they play instead of going home with it, the assistant manager adds. As more customers come in and head to the lottery terminal, it becomes crowded, as the terminal is housed in a small space inside the store, he notes.

This is, according to the assistant manager, a health concern. “You cannot maintain social distancing over there,” he says. He feels the spike in lottery-playing customers is itself due to the current rules in place about social distancing and to the closure of non-essential businesses, but not of the lottery.

“People are staying at home, and they’re like, ‘we don’t have [anything] to do, so we’re going to play the ticket,’” he says. “What I feel is that the [Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation] OLG centre has become the new hang-out spot.”

He asked a few of the customers why they continued to step out despite instruction from officials to limit interaction with others and to stay home whenever possible. “And they're like, ‘We just wanted to win, [...] we are healthy,’’ he says.

On March 15, OLG announced in a press release that it would temporarily shut down its casinos as a precautionary measure in response to COVID-19.

Additionally, on March 17, OLG announced in a press release that its Prize Centre at Yonge Street and Dundas Street was also to be shut down to protect the health and safety of customers and employees.

But lottery ticket sales continue unabated at some retailers, such as convenience stores, and, according to Dita Kuhtey, a Media Relations Manager for OLG, their purchase “is entirely at the discretion of customers,” with the onus placed on businesses to take health and safety measures.

“Many lottery retailers continue to sell lottery tickets and in doing so, should and do incorporate precautionary measures recommended by public health authorities, which include physical distancing and enhanced cleansing,” Kuhtey said in an email.

That being said, Kuhtey notes that many Ontarians have started to make online purchases of lottery tickets.

“We’ve seen a surge in volumes over the past week or two,” Kuhtey says, adding that proceeds from the sale of lottery products are being used by the provincial government “to fund important priorities such as the operation of hospitals and health care.”

But in Quebec, Loto-Quebec spokesperson Patrice Lavoie announced on March 20 that Loto-Quebec would suspend physical sales of lottery tickets. The terminals at retailers and in kiosks have accordingly been closed, with play being limited to online purchases.

But the issue, the assistant manager at the convenience store maintains, is Ontario’s older population, who might not know that online play is an option. “They have to come into the store to play the ticket because not a lot of people know about playing online and most of them are seniors,” he says. “That’s what I’m worried about the most.”

“Please, please, please stay home,” he asks of Torontonians. “Your health is top-most priority.”

He is confused as to why at a time when non-essential businesses are being told to shut down, with businesses and individuals liable to fines if they don’t comply with social distancing measures, the lottery continues to operate. He hopes the government will temporarily shut the lottery down.

“Lotto tickets [and] gambling are not that essential,” he says.

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