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Sep-20-2017 13:40printcommentsVideo

Canada's First Lottery

Canada's lottery history is part of the fabric of the country

Vintage Canada Lottery commercial
Vintage Canada Lottery commercial, 1976.

(SALEM, Ore.) - Since the very first lottery draw took place in Canada, the country has had an enduring love affair with the lottery. This love seems set to blossom further now that Canadian players will have the option to join in with Powerball and Mega Millions online, not to mention a host of other international lotteries.

That first home-grown Canadian lottery draw took place all the way back in 1974, and was a direct consequence of the financial disaster that was already starting to afflict the Montreal Olympics.

After having won the right to host the Olympics in 1970, the then Mayor of Montreal claimed that “The Olympics can no more run a deficit than a man can have a baby”, a statement which may have concerned the male population of the city by the time the Olympics drew close.

Despite having promised a relatively modest Olympics, everything seemed to run over-long and over-budget.

Certainly, the project was not helped by almost continuous industrial action by the construction workers and dramatic increases in the price of the steel required to build the stadium.

There was a lottery in Quebec from 1969, offering a prize of $125,000, and the very first draw was held in 1970. However, the first government sponsored lottery took place on the 15th of April 1974, and its creation was entirely due to the financial woes being caused by the impending Olympics.

The lottery was run from Quebec, but the $10 tickets could be sold in any province as long as the provincial government agreed. With the one million dollar tax-free prize being the largest lottery jackpot in the world at the time, there was feverish excitement as the draw approached.

CBC Television screened the highly anticipated first draw in April ’74, while people were throwing ‘lottery parties’ at home to celebrate the event.

Nine ladies from Quebec shared the million dollar top prize, which meant that the second prize winner – a 48-year old accountant from Guelph – was actually the highest individual jackpot winner.

The government of Quebec had hoped to raise $30 million in total from all the lottery draws prior to the Games, but in fact demand far exceeded their expectations.

The first draw alone raised $13 million, and in total $230 million was raised over the course of the 9 draws held between 1974 and 1976. Unfortunately, this proved little more than a Band-Aid with which to try to cover the hemorrhaging costs of the Olympics.

The original budget for the Games had been $310 million, but by the time all of the construction was completed that had increased to a staggering $1.5 billion.

It took around 30 years for the debt to be paid off in full, leading to the white elephant of a stadium to become known as ‘The Big Owe’, as a symbol of the disastrously expensive event.

One thing which did survive was Canada’s love of playing the lottery. With online sites now offering Canadians to play international lotteries with the chance to win hundreds of millions of dollars, it seems that this love affair is going to endure for a long time to come.

Source: Special Features Dept.


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