01/09/2013 06:56 EST | Updated 03/11/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Lottery Lawsuit: Gamblers' Class Action Gets Legal Go-Ahead


VANCOUVER - Two problem gamblers who enrolled in a program that barred them from government-run casinos can go ahead with a class-action lawsuit to try to get their winnings back, says a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

In a ruling released Wednesday, Judge John Savage said the proceedings could resolve common issues raised by Michael Lee and Hamidreza Haghdust who argue the British Columbia Lottery Corp. "wrongfully withheld" approximately $42,000 and $35,000 they won, respectively, while participating in the voluntary self-exclusion program.

The program allows problem gamblers to register so they're barred from the corporation's facilities for a specific period of time.

While he didn't rule on the substance of the lawsuits, Savage also said an identifiable class of two or more people exists, and a plaintiff is available to represent the interests of the class.

"A class proceedings is the preferable procedure for the fair and efficient resolution of these common issues," he said.

According to the court document, the men have problems controlling their gambling urges, and each registered for the program, with the first one-year term beginning in 2006 and the second three-year term beginning in 2007.

Both signed the voluntary-exclusion form, which at the time did not include any provisions that notified registrants they would forfeit any winnings, according to Savage's ruling.

Despite signing the forms, the men continued to gamble at corporation facilities, with Haghdust losing about $200,000 and Lee losing about $30,000.

On Sept. 25, 2009, Haghdust won a $15,000 jackpot at a Coquitlam, B.C., casino, and on June 15, 2010, he won $20,028 at a casino in Vancouver.

Meantime, Lee won a $42,484 jackpot at a casino in Duncan, B.C., on Jan. 10, 2010.

Even before he won his first jackpot, Haghdust was excluded from corporation facilities nine separate times, states the court document, and between Aug. 6, 2010 and the expiry of his second exclusion term, he was removed from corporation facilities five more times.

Lee was asked to leave a casino once before he won his jackpot.

Their lawyer, Paul Bennett, said the exclusion program is flawed because it allowed his clients to lose, but never win.

"That's why it's a penalty. People come into the casino, they gamble, they lose their money, but when they win they can't win."

Bennett expects the corporation will likely appeal the certification decision.

A date has yet to be set for the next court appearance, but Savage has asked the plaintiffs to develop a case-management plan to move the action forward.

The ruling noted that between June 4, 2010, and July 4, 2012, the corporation withheld 187 jackpot prizes from program participants.

(The Canadian Press, CHNL)