Not party to the $20-million lotto prize

A dispute over a lottery ticket is ruining friendships in a Calgary suburb

The young clerk at the Hi Ho Esso station in Okotoks, Alta., says that the famous legal battle over a lotto ticket sold at his counter has been unobtrusive. “The people involved were told by their lawyers not to talk,” he says, “and we know better than to ask.” In a Calgary suburb in 2011, there’s already enough money around for $20 million not to make much visible impact.

But it is enough cash to destroy friendships. Michael and Catherine Clancy were part of a group of regulars in a lottery pool at the Okotoks Elks Club. The participants generally covered for one another, making sure nobody missed a drawing. But the Clancys’ names, for the first time, somehow didn’t make it onto the list for the Nov. 23, 2007, Super 7 drawing; 21 other Elks habitués, however, won a piece of a $20-million prize.

One of the winners testified that the group assembled to discuss the Clancys’ bad luck about a week after the big win. The plaintiffs “were pretty close friends,” Drew DeVries said, and he “would have liked to see them in the money, but everyone voted it down right away.” The Clancys, astonished that nobody had covered for them, sued for two twenty-thirds of the total prize.

“They have convinced me that they sincerely thought that their friends would ensure that they would be in the draw every time,” wrote Alberta Queen’s Bench Justice Suzanne Bensler last week in her judgment. But with conflicting testimony about the nature of the pool, and no written contract, Bensler had to find against the Clancys. They walk away with $100,000 provided by their friend Albert Johnson, an Okotoks retiree whose name ought to become a watchword for integrity: he was the only one of the 21 defendants who agreed with the Clancys’ claim and was willing to back that belief with a share of the prize.