Lottery CEO fired one day after poll

By Stanley Tromp, Globe and Mail, Oct 16, 2007


The president of the B.C. Lottery Corporation was fired one day after an internal poll last May showed public trust in the corporation had plummeted in the wake of a warning by the province's Ombudsman of possible fraud by some retailers.

However, another poll taken a month later showed the removal of BCLC president and CEO Vic Poleschuk had done little to restore public confidence, and public estimates of ongoing retailer theft had barely changed.

The first internal poll, dated May 31, followed the May 29 report by Ombudsman Kim Carter that found the lottery system open to fraud by retailers trying to cheat customers, with evidence that BCLC had known about the concerns for years.

Reached in France where he is travelling, BCLC board chair John McLernon told The Globe and Mail the first poll's timing was irrelevant to Mr. Poleschuk's fate.

"This survey did not factor into the board's decision. The Ombudsman's report helped set out a very ambitious program of change. The board did not feel that Mr. Poleschuk was the right person to take the company forward to implement that change."

The online poll for BCLC, obtained through a freedom of information request, was taken by Ipsos Reid on May 30-31 and had mostly negative results. The lottery corporation would not reveal the number of people surveyed, calling it the pollster's trade secret.

"Trust in the BCLC has been damaged," the poll noted, showing only 22 per cent of the public said they had a favourable impression of the corporation. Fifty-eight per cent did not trust the BCLC to ensure the correct prizes were paid to the rightful ticket owner, and 61 per cent said BCLC had done a poor job at responding to the problems found by the Ombudsman.

"The main impact on players is that they intend to be more careful in checking their tickets," it said. Sixty-two per cent of players said they were or would be more careful in checking their tickets. However, only 26 per cent said they would play the games less because of the security problems reported.

A month later, a second Ipsos Reid poll reported that "recall of this issue is still high, but it has slipped in the last few weeks."

Although there was still more work to be done to restore public trust in both the BCLC and lottery retailers, "most results are moving in the right direction," the June 29 poll found.

Despite this, 70 per cent of those surveyed said the appointment of a new interim BCLC president had no impact on their trust in the corporation.

"Views of the prevalence of retailer theft have not changed substantially."

There was also evidence that players were becoming more careful, with 28 per cent of players (up nine points from the previous poll) saying they sign the back of their lottery tickets always or most of the time. Many did not place all the blame on the BCLC for fraud - 78 per cent agreed that it's up to players to check their own tickets.

Only 48 per cent trusted BCLC to manage lottery games (up six points), or to ensure the correct prizes are paid to the rightful ticket owner (48 per cent, an 11-point rise).

Mr. Poleschuk did not respond to phone calls.

Former BCLC president Guy Simonis, Mr. Poleschuk's mentor for 20 years, said he didn't know if the poll results influenced Mr. Poleschuk's removal.

"I organized a sold-out dinner for Vic in Kamloops last week, for all his former staff, friends and local supporters. He deserved it, after 28 years of service. Now he'll go on and get a real job where politics doesn't interfere."

Mr. Simonis also warned that the issue of retailer fraud could plague the BCLC again. "I think the danger for the industry is that they've soothed everyone into believing there's been a miraculous change, but it's not so."

By the numbers

An Ipsos Reid poll of British Columbians, done for the B.C. Lottery Corp. and dated May 31, showed that:

89 per cent think some retailers are stealing customers' winning tickets, although only 69 per cent think the problem is limited to a few retailers and is not widespread;

73 per cent are not confident lottery retail clerks are providing accurate information about winning tickets;

22 per cent say they have a favourable impression of BCLC;

58 per cent do not trust BCLC to ensure the correct prizes are paid to the rightful ticket owners;

61 per cent say BCLC has done a poor job at responding to the problems found by the Ombudsman;

62 per cent of players say they will be more careful in checking their tickets;

26 per cent of players say they will play less.