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Why gamblers loved the 50-cent coin

The 50-cent piece was just a bit larger than a loonie, and video lottery terminals couldn't tell the difference.

Some Manitobans were gaming video lottery terminals to get a two-for-one deal in 1994

Manitoba lottery officials modify their machines to close a loophole exploited by gamblers. 1:32

When was the last time you saw a 50-cent piece?

"In recent decades, the 50-cent circulation coin has not been widely used in day-to-day transactions," admits the website of the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg.

According to the site, 625,000 of them were made in 2015, the most recent year for which stats are available.

That's down from the 987,000 that the mint produced in 1994 — when savvy gamblers figured out they could employ the half-dollar to their advantage on the province's video lottery terminals.

'We have no idea'

Susan Olynik of the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation said about a thousand 50-cent pieces had turned up in eight VLTs in recent weeks. (24 Hours/CBC Archives)

"All VLTs take loonies or quarters, however some people are using 50-cent pieces which the machine recognizes as a dollar," said reporter Rick Ratte of CBC Winnipeg.

"We have no idea who's doing it or where it's coming from," said Susan Olynik, director of communications for the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation.

The corporation asked the mint, also in Winnipeg, if any company or person had recently made an unusually large order of the coins.

The fix was in

Video lottery terminals misinterpreted a 50-cent piece as a loonie, allowing players twice as many credits while gambling. (24 Hours/CBC Archives)

In the meantime, they were spending about $3,000 to fix the machines so that they rejected 50-cent pieces.

"We're modifying all the coin acceptors to stop this from happening again," said Olynik. "Unfortunately, there's always going to be somebody that tries to break the system."

Production of the 50-cent piece peaked in 1965, when more than 12 million of them were minted.

According to a 1988 report by the Globe and Mail, the Mint was looking at phasing out the coin, noting that banks "avoid the expense of keeping the bulky coins in stock and almost never order any from the Bank of Canada."