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Canada lottery employee wins $8.5 million jackpot

Apr 8, 2006, 8:54 am

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Canada 6/49

Technical whiz, 50, becomes first Canadian lotto worker to win jackpot

Subjected to intense security check before being allowed to pick up prize

An Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. tech whiz known to his colleagues as Mr. BlackBerry has won an $8.5 million jackpot, the first Canadian lottery employee to take home the top prize.

And Stephen Cook, an operations analyst who has worked for the lottery corporation for the past 18 years, didn't hesitate during celebrations at a downtown hotel yesterday to tackle the incredulous reaction to his big win.

"If I had an inside edge, do you think it would have taken me 20 years to win?" he asked to laughter from a room filled with about 30 of his colleagues, long-time partner Patricia Savage, family members and the media.

Cook, 50, who works at the corporation's North York offices, became the first lottery employee in more than 30 years of draws across Canada to win a jackpot this size, officials said, noting there have been past, smaller wins. Only twice before, they say, has a lottery corporation employee in Ontario won prizes in the $200,000 range.

"Finally one of our own has won (the 6/49 jackpot) after more than 30 years," exclaimed George Sweny, senior vice-president of lotteries. Because of the heavy security surrounding provincial lotteries, there is no restriction on employee participation. Less heavily regulated draws, such as those for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, do forbid employee participation.

Cook was presented with the cheque for $8,508,027 from the March 22 draw, winning with the same numbers he's been playing every week at the Don Mills Shopping Plaza: 08, 12, 17, 23, 36, and 38.

Lottery brass, sensitive to suggestions of an insider's edge, were quick to detail the security surrounding the draws.

Numbers are picked, electronically and at random, in a television studio, said spokeswoman Teresa Roncon. "So there is no chance of any manipulation.

"Even the balls are weighed," she added, "so that when they come, they come out evenly. We have the highest level of integrity."

Cook's colleague, Steve Jelliman, acknowledged the doubters.

"There's always going to be skepticism when something like this happens," said Jelliman, 38, who sits across from the new millionaire employee — who, by the way, says he's not going to quit.

But his spending plans do include a house and a condo.

Lottery corporation officials took pains to explain how the integrity of the system works.

An internal audit system is run by Doug Boyd and an outside auditor, Barry Magill, of the auditing firm Grant Thornton.

And the lottery corporation has what's called an "Insider Win Policy and Procedures Process," which subjected Cook to a rigorous security check before he was allowed to pick up the cheque. During the week-long security check, Cook was not allowed to report to work.

Cook, known as Mr. BlackBerry because the mobile device goes with him everywhere as he troubleshoots technical issues, said while he's a new millionaire, he'll continue buying lottery tickets.

"But if he wins next week, then someone will start to ask questions," one person said to gales of laughter.

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