Powerball lottery: Canadians not deterred by questions about legitimacy of online ticket sellers
Websites like TheLotter.com aren't regulated but are attracting 'thousands' of Canadians
Canadians are using any means necessary to get their hands on Powerball lottery tickets in the U.S. — and with good reason. The jackpot for tonight's draw is $1.5 billion US, which the organizers say is the largest jackpot in history.
"They're just dropping it left and right," said Tom Tracey of Nice n' Easy Gas in Ogdensburg, N.Y., of the money Canadians are spending at his store buying Powerball tickets.
"Could be $500, could be $1,000. They are just coming in and dropping that kind of money."
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A worker at a North Dakota gas stop near the Manitoba border said at one point Tuesday it seemed like "about half of Canada" had driven down to buy Powerball tickets.
Crossing the border to try your luck might be the hard way to become rich. You can also buy tickets online.
We have an unblemished record stretching back 14 years in providing participating customers with their official tickets and assisting them with the collection of their wins.- Austin Weaver, TheLotter.com
TheLotter.com offers to purchase tickets in the U.S. on behalf of Canadians and other foreign nationals. In a news release last week, the company maintained that "thousands of Canadians" are using its services to buy Powerball tickets.
The website's organizers stressed they do not sell lottery tickets but act as "a courier on behalf of our customers" and insist there is "no legal limitation" for such a service.
"We can assure you that we have an unblemished record stretching back 14 years in providing participating customers with their official tickets and assisting them with the collection of their wins," TheLotter.com's Austin Weaver wrote in an email to CBC News early Wednesday.
For much of Tuesday, the site was showing a message, in six different languages, telling users, "Due to the high demand for U.S. Powerball, the service is temporarily unavailable in your country" and urging them to try again later.
On Wednesday, the site appeared to be working, but a note on its Powerball section said sales are now closed and that any purchase would go toward the next draw on Saturday.
There are questions about the legitimacy of such online ticket brokers. According to the Powerball website, tickets can only be legally purchased at a state lottery sales terminal. Some states sell tickets online but only to state residents, the website says.
And yet, Michael Glickman of Quebec is using TheLotter.com to buy his Powerball tickets. He said in an email to CBC News that he's "not very scared" that his tickets won't turn out to be valid.
"I only put in $25-$50. Won't spend much more than that," he said, noting that the TheLotter.com website kept crashing Tuesday as he tried to purchase his tickets,
"Hopefully, we will get the scanned tickets that we have bought."
Oregon recognizes winning ticket bought from abroad
Last month, a man living in Iraq used TheLotter.com to buy a Megabucks lottery ticket in Oregon and won $6.4 million US.
"We were flummoxed. This had never happened before," said Chuck Baumann of the Oregon State Lottery, which also participates in Powerball.
In the end, there was nothing that would prevent us from paying the winner.- Chuck Baumann , Oregon State Lottery
After investigating the circumstances of the purchase, Oregon lottery officials discovered TheLotter.com got around the rules by having an agent purchase the ticket in Oregon and giving it to the Iraqi man when he flew in to claim his winnings.
"In the end, there was nothing that would prevent us from paying the winner," said Baumann.
But the Powerball website cautions against using online brokers.
"There are no regulations of websites that claim to sell tickets or sell you a 'service' to buy and hold tickets for you," the website reads. It also suggests that winners might not be able to claim their prize.
The Ontario government echoed that warning Tuesday.
We would urge extreme caution in buying lottery tickets from anyone other than an authorized seller.- Anne- Marie Flanagan, Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
"We would urge extreme caution in buying lottery tickets from anyone other than an authorized seller," said Anne- Marie Flanagan, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.
An Anglemont, B.C., man who bought five Powerball tickets using TheLotter.com says he has faith in the service. Andy, who did not want his last name used, said he saw the site mentioned as a reliable option in several articles about Canadians participating in foreign lotteries and decided to take the risk.
"I have never bought tickets for a lottery outside of Canada before so I am simply trusting what others say about Lotter," he said. "My purchase with them was easy, and I received an immediate email confirmation with a toll free number to call if I have any questions."
He said he paid $32.50 Cdn (about $23 US) for five tickets, which at a lotto sales terminal sell for $2 to $3 US each, depending on whether or not you choose the Power Play option.
If you are lucky enough to beat the miserable odds of 1 in 292 million and win in tonight's draw, which takes place at 10:59 ET, Uncle Sam will take his cut. The U.S. government holds back 30 per cent for federal income tax.
- An earlier version of this story said Canadians would have to pay income tax on their U.S. lottery winnings. In fact, lottery winnings are not treated as taxable income in Canada.Jan 13, 2016 11:03 AM ET