A Windsor, Ont., man is accusing his friends of betraying him after they hit a million-dollar lottery win last summer, and now the matter is likely headed to civil court.
"Why wouldn't they tell me they won?" Philip Tsotsos said. "These guys are like family to me."
Last June, 16 members of a Windsor group won a $1-million Maxmillion prize on a Lotto Max ticket from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). Each person is listed in the lawsuit Tsotsos has launched in civil court.
He's suing for $70,000 and other costs, including interest. He is also fighting to be declared the 17th member on the winning ticket.
"Their dreams came true. Why should they steal mine?" Tsotsos said.
Defence lawyer David Robins, who represents the group of 16, commented briefly when asked to respond to the allegations in Tsotsos's statement of claim.
"Mr. Tsotsos did not pay to play, so we deny that he is entitled to any of the relief that he is seeking, and we'll be vigorously defending the claim," Robins said. "In this instance, he did not play and he was not included."
Robins has yet to file a statement of defence, but said he will be doing so in the next few weeks.
Tsotsos, a pizza delivery driver, said he had recently left his job at an auto-parts delivery company, but remained in the lottery pool with his colleagues. He said the pool was put on hold during the pandemic in 2020, but was picked up again in March 2021.
"I was approached in June, saying, 'Phil there's a major on. Do you want in?' Of course I'm in," he said.
Tsotsos said he didn't always pay for the tickets right away, but the pool operated on a credit system and at times in the past, he had owed up to $100 and always paid it off. He said that in the six years he's taken part in the pool, he's never been cut off.
"The pool operated on an opt-out basis," the statement of claim reads.
"If a member chose to exit, they would have to communicate same to the organizer."
The court filing says disqualifying someone from the group would have to happen with clear communication.
Carrying a tab
At the time of the draw in June, Tsotsos said he was carrying a tab of $30. According to the court document, the organizer of the group, Steven Todesco, said in a text message addressed to Tsotsos that in order to remain in the group, he would need to repay the $30 and put another $10 into the pool — an agreement he said he could prove with text messages.
"This Friday I will, 40," reads a message from Tsotsos to Todesco that was transcribed into the court filing.
"Actually I won't have to pay you anything. Just take it out of our winnings when we win," he continued.
"Ha, OK, but I charge interest, a high interest rate. I have kids to feed lol," Todesco replied, according to the statement of claim.
In another text message exchange with Jessie Reid, who according to Tsotsos would assist Todesco in running the pool, Reid reminds Tsostos to pay $10 to stay in, to which Tsotsos responds that he's in.
"Ok, just wanted it in writing before the draw lol," said the purported text from Reid.
Claimant says he learned about win on social media
Tsotsos said that he cooked for the others in the pool and would bring them pizzas. The day he found out about the win, which was announced in October 2021, he said, he had just brought them a free pizza.
"I got online and I was just going through social media and what comes up. The same guy that's eating my pizza is holding a million-dollar cheque, and that's how I found out," he said.
"How would you feel? That hurt more than anything."
The winning ticket divided 16 ways netted each member of the group about $62,500 each, Tsostos said in the interview with the CBC. It would have been slightly less if Tsotsos were included.
"We all would have won $58,000. This is all over a difference of $4,500," he said.
"It's crappy what they're doing to me. I don't wish them anything bad. I wish them nothing but success in life, but why ruin my dream?"
When asked if any of his clients considered Tsotsos to be a friend, Robins said he wondered how relevant that would be to the litigation.
"Those relationships and whether they existed to the extent that Mr. Tsotsos believed that they did is something to be determined," Robins said.
"I'm not at liberty to comment on who Mr. Tsotsos thought was his friend and wasn't his friend other than to suggest that friends don't go suing friends."
How to avoid
Joseph De Luca, Tsostsos's lawyer, said they are speaking out to stress the importance of protecting yourself when entering into a group lottery situation.
"It is regulated and there are forms available, and this type of problem can be avoided."
De Luca was referring to Play Smart cards that are downloadable on the OLG website. The cards help you keep records on who is paying and how they're paying, and includes suggestions — such as choosing a group captain, planning ahead, keeping good records and protecting the tickets.
"I don't want anyone else going through this," Tsotsos added.
De Luca said he and his client tried to settle following their statement of claim filing with the court, and there have been other attempts at negotiations.
"Nothing's been successful yet," the lawyer said, adding they're still trying to settle out of court.
Robins said they are not seeking any options outside of the court proceeding and will file a statement of defence in the coming weeks.