Top brass at the Town of St. Marys and the management of the community’s Jr. B hockey club were immersing themselves in the nitty-gritty of Ontario’s lottery licensing regulations after being notified by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) on Wednesday, Feb. 8 that a so-called “notice of infraction” would soon be issued.
According to a news release sent out Thursday by the town, AGCO made the municipality aware the previous afternoon about “its concern with the Lincolns’ ongoing Chase the Ace Sweepstakes.”
Chase the Ace is a first-time fundraiser for the hockey club. Ticket holders, if their ticket is chosen during weekly draws, are offered the chance to cut a deck of playing cards. If a predetermined card is chosen by the ticket holder, they win a grand prize cash reward. If that particular card is not chosen, the amount of the grand prize increases; the playing card that was chosen, though, doesn’t go back into the deck so the chance of winning the grand prize increases incrementally each week.
Lesser cash prizes are also up for grabs depending on the card chosen each week. So far this playing season, some lesser prizes have been won. But the grand prize has not yet been won; roadside signs owned by local businesses have this week been promoting the Chase the Ace grand prize as $13,000.
The news release says it’s the municipality that will receive the notice of infraction because Lincolns’ home games are held at the Pyramid Recreation Centre, a municipally-owned and licensed facility. “AGCO advised the town that allowing unlawful gaming to continue could result in the loss of the municipality’s liquor licence.”
The news release from the Town of St. Marys says the municipality was told by an AGCO representative that “the agency became aware of the contest through its regular investigation of local compliance matters.” The town adds that AGCO asked for “a review by its legal counsel,” through which it was “determined that the Chase the Ace sweepstakes is an unlawful lottery and its continued operation would constitute illegal gaming.”
The town says it was informed by AGCO that the agency “has advised the Ontario Provincial Police of the matter.” And, aside from the possible revocation of the town’s liquor licence, the news release says the municipality was informed by AGCO that there’s a possibility of “further sanctions (being) applied against the (Jr. B hockey) organization.” No details about those further sanctions are provided.
In the months after the conclusion of the Lincolns’ 2015-16 playing season and before the commencement of the 2016-17 season, the Town of St. Marys made it known to numerous nonprofit organizations and charities within the municipality that AGCO had initiated heightened enforcement of regulations governing games of chance and lotterylike fundraisers. The town hosted a representative of the provincial agency during a session to which organizations were invited. Subsequently, a representative of the Royal Canadian Legion in St. Marys sent a message to the Journal Argus encouraging all community groups to make sure they knew their responsibilities for compliance.
The town, itself, ceased operation of a regular bingo fundraiser for its own senior services department.
The Jr. B Lincolns, meanwhile, made the decision to end two long-running fundraisers: home game 50/50 draws, and the annual Elimination Draw.
The news release this week from the town explains, “In order to comply with AGCO’s instructions, the town has notified the Lincolns that all activities related to the Chase the Ace sweepstakes must cease at any and all locations within the geographic boundaries of the municipality. To avoid further violations, the Lincolns must not advertise the sweepstakes, sell tickets or distribute prize money from draws.”
Jr. B Lincolns executive member Stewart Grant is quoted in the town’s news release, saying the AGCO determination “came as a surprise” to club officials. He says the organization assumed Chase the Ace was in compliance because people could receive a sweepstakes ticket free if they purchased one of a new set of collectors’ hockey cards, featuring either players from this year’s squad or well-known alumni from the club’s storied, 61-year history — including eventual NHLers Terry Crisp and Jack Valiquette.
“We have faced a number of financial challenges this year, with the loss of our annual Elimination Draw and now this concern about our Chase the Ace sweepstakes,” said Grant. “We respectfully disagree with AGCO’s initial view that Chase the Ace (doesn’t) meet the criteria to be considered a lottery activity. Tickets were provided free to community members who purchased Lincoln hockey cards or pursued the ‘no purchase necessary’ option.”
For its part, the town has retained a lawyer who specializes in lottery licences to aid in determining the actions required to resolve the situation. In the meantime, the news release explains, “Town staff will continue to collaborate with both AGCO and the Lincolns to explore potential solutions.”
“The Town of St. Mary recognizes the important role that the Lincolns play in the community, and we will support them through this challenge, as we have for many years,” said the municipality’s chief administrative officer, Brent Kittmer, in the news release. “Unfortunately, the town has no choice but to follow provincial laws established out of the Criminal Code regarding lotteries. We are fully committed to co-operating with AGCO to achieve compliance and will continue to take the necessary steps to reach that goal.”
Grant also expressed optimism the issue will be resolved.
“We look forward to having a constructive conversation with AGCO to see what our options are to sustain the viability of this hockey club that has been part of the community for the past 60 years.”