Lottery players often don't realize the grand prize has been won before they buy their ticket.

Feeling lucky?

What if the big prize for the lottery ticket you just bought has already been won? And no one told you?

CBC Winnipeg’s I-Team has discovered that the Western Canada Lottery Corporation continues to market a variety of lottery tickets — even after the top prize has already been won.

The WCLC says customers should always read the disclaimer on their ticket, which says: "Some of the prizes on this ticket may already have been claimed."

But lottery players say they don’t always do that, and besides, the practice is not fair — why continue selling lottery tickets if buyers have no chance at the top prize? The CBC's Investigative Unit found retailers still were selling games such as Texas Hold'em Poker, Lucky 7s and Set for Life, after the top prizes had been won. 

"It’s ridiculous," said Winnipegger Marguerite Lambert. "I wouldn’t continue to buy them if I knew that. If the prize is already gone — what’s the point?"

Elsewhere, lottery operators have been forced by customer complaints and pending lawsuits to end a game of chance when the top prize has been won.

Lottery officials in Colorado and Indiana earlier this year ordered retailers to stop selling tickets for games in which top prizes had been won. Virginia changed its policy last year after a business professor sued the state lottery for $85-million.

So how long should a ticket be left in the marketplace after the top prize is gone?

WCLC spokesperson Andrea Marantz said while the top prize may have been won in some games of chance — subsidiary prizes are still available.

'Why keep on selling them?'

"Winning $10 on a $2 ticket — people are happy," she said. "That’s an attractive ticket."

People often buy the tickets, however, hoping to win the biggest prize: $1-million or $100,000.

"If the big prizes are gone, why keep on selling them?" asked Winnipegger Maureen Rayner. "People are going for the big prize. That’s the way I’m looking at it."

The WCLC says customers can check their website, updated weekly, to see if the major prize is still available — prior to buying a ticket.

Rayner said she didn’t know that. "It’s no use to someone who doesn’t have a computer,’ she said.

Marantz said the WCLC has no immediate plans to post the number of remaining prizes in stores where tickets are sold, but it's considering that possibility.

Customers say that would be a good idea. "They should really let people know that the major prizes have been won," said Diane Bishop. "I’m not going to buy a $5 ticket if I’m only going to win $50 — what’s the point?"

WCLC operates the lottery in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the northern territories.