I placed this in the messhall, but marauder scored big time on this story...
---Title: Wizard of Odds
Guest: BRIAN LEBLANC
PETER MANSBRIDGE: It's coming up to the weekend for American football, the Superbowl and every year the big game means big gambling. You can be sure Brian Leblanc will be making his bet and there's a good chance it'll pay off. Leblanc has won more sports lotteries than anyone else in Canada. So what's the secret of this high roller? Here's Tom Alderman with a profile of the wizard of odds.
TOM ALDERMAN: A guy's got a right to pace when he bets $50,000 on the outcome of a hockey game. And on a busy day, that's what Brian Leblanc bets on the various government run sports lotteries across Canada. If he correctly picks the winners of this and two other games tonight, he wins. And to the despair of lotteries, no one has beaten them for bigger bucks more often than Brian Leblanc, unlike most sports bar jocks who'll bet two bucks or so on sports lotteries on their favourite teams, just to add a little zest to their night out. Sports on TV seems so much more interesting when you've got a bet on the game and a lot of us do nowadays since the various provincial governments decided to become legal bookmakers to the masses by introducing us this sports lotteries. They figured they'd be just another lottery, another way of separating dollars from gambling junkies. In this case, those who think they know which team can beat which other team on any given night. But lately, the lotteries have been discovering that they can be badly beaten by a sophisticated new breed of sports gamblers that has somehow doped out how to beat the lotteries at their own game. And beat them for millions. Brian is understandably coy about how much he's taken the lotteries for in the past five years. The taxman might be listening. But it's at least $6 million, maybe as high as $12 million. His favourite target is Ontario's Proline Lottery because he thinks it sets the odds very, very sloppily. In tonight's game, for example, Proline's got Buffalo a big favourite over Boston. Brian politely disagrees.
BRIAN LEBLANC: So in this Buffalo-Boston game, after home ice is included, Boston, I have them only small underdog.
ALDERMAN: He loves Proline. He once beat it for close to $3 million. Living just outside Ottawa, he regards Proline as his home town sports lottery. But Brian is an equal opportunity player. He took the Québec sports lottery for $1.3 million one week and hammered the Atlantic lottery last year for $1.7 million. What does it feel like to win $1.7 million?
LEBLANC: Well it's pretty good. I mean, you know, when you've done it a few times so I mean, it's not as good as the first time but it's, I mean, it's, it's certainly a high, you know, like, it's hard to explain. I mean, it's just, you feel good, you know.
ALDERMAN: Brian keeps the lottery cheque machines busy because, though he never beyond high school, he's got a definite feel for statistics.
LEBLANC: It's quite complicated, but it's just statistical analysis mostly.
ALDERMAN: What he especially likes about sports lotteries is that when they publish their odds, the odds don't change unlike Las Vegas odds which go up and down with the amount bet on different teams. That way Brian and his computer can confidently analyze the benefits of different combinations of bets. Hurrah for unchanging odds.
LEBLANC: That's better. Way better.
ALDERMAN: Explain why?
LEBLANC: Well because if I like a game for instance in Vegas, and I start betting on it, they'll just move the odds. And it'll drop the odds. So in other words, if I give you this example here, if I like the Islanders at 285. If I went to Vegas and it was 285, let's say, I started betting it, the odds would drop in no time at all.
ALDERMAN: So here the odds are fixed so you can bet big amounts of money without the odds dropping.
LEBLANC: That's right.
JIM CRONAN: The game absolutely was not designed for professional gambling.
ALDERMAN: To the Ontario Lottery's Jim Cronan, Brian and others like him play dirty because they're pros out to win big. No fair. Lotteries prefer small winners and lots of compliant losers.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (1): On the back, please.
CRONAN: These games were never designed for someone who's a professional gambler. We'd invite those people to go to Las Vegas, he's going to do head to head betting, but our game was designed for that 99.9 percent of the people who, who just want to make a recreational wager and perhaps win a few bucks.
ALDERMAN: Most lottery players play the simple regular lotteries which are all luck.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (2): Congratulations. Enjoy your prize.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (1): Thank you.
ALDERMAN: But a sports lottery demands an extra element of skill and knowledge which officials weren't entirely aware of when they began promoting them in the early 90's. Like other winners, the first sports lottery winners were treated like celebrities.
LEBLANC: They gave us Christmas presents. Sports Select bags. Sports Select hats. Sports Select jackets. I got an Ontario Lottery Corporation jacket. They gave the retailers we were betting at these things to give to us because we were betting so big. Then they lost and we won. Then they said well, it's not for that type of betting.
ALDERMAN: New rules designed specifically to push him off his game have decreed that lottery terminals could only sell $100 worth to any one person. Unlike before when Brian could buy all he needed at one or two outlets. Now he has to chase around town from store to store to buy his tickets in inclement weather in his untrustworthy nine year old Volkswagen. For a loner who likes to hang around his modest rented house playing with his computer, that sure eats into the day, which is what lotteries have in mind. Wear him down!
CRONAN: We've tried to make it logistically extremely difficult if not impossible for those people to go out.
ALDERMAN: Brian's favourite lottery outlet used to be Bob Sculthorpe's convenience store. Bob took a lot of Brian's action, earning a nice piece of chance, the five percent commission. Till the Ontario Lottery Corporation closed in.
BOB SCULTHORPE: They pulled my machine. They pulled everything. Pulled the lottery tickets, scratch tickets. I was told, take anybody's money but don't take the Leblanc brothers that live in Aylmer. This was by OLC personnel.
ALDERMAN: They told you this?
SCULTHORPE: Oh yes.
ALDERMAN: What did you say back?
SCULTHORPE: What can you say? Okay. But if he walks in here, I'm not turning away. If he spends $100, that's $5 in the business' pocket. We've got lights to pay. We've got rent to pay. We've got taxes to pay. We've got, you know, it's not easy running a business like this. And they're forcing me to turn customers away. I have yet to see any other supplier, and I've been in this business for nine years, I've dealt with hundreds of suppliers, there's not one supplier that's ever walked in here, take for example Hershey -- Hershey has never walked in and said don't you dare sell a whole box of chocolate bars to one customer.
ALDERMAN: Now the taxman is closing in as well. Lottery winnings aren't taxable. But the revenuers say high rollers like Brian are an exception. He's in the business of gambling.
LEBLANC: It's just unfair. I mean, it's a scam. I'm being scammed by the government.
ALDERMAN: So Brian has hired tax lawyer Mark Segal to make his case. SEGAL says that at 30 years of age, his client is retired, indeed has never held a job since high school. And he only spends ten minutes a day figuring out his bets. Ten minutes daily doesn't make it a business.
MARK SEGAL: His winnings seem to be very high. It's like a magnet. The lead filings are all popping into the magnet and Revenue Canada is attracted to this situation and says there's something here we want to look at. How can we possibly tax this amount of money? Okay, we'll say it's a business because we have 14 cases out there, 12 of which we've lost, where we've tried to say gambling was a business and therefore taxable. We've won two. So let's try another one. Maybe we can get a court to believe that if somebody buys a lot of lottery tickets and thinks about what they're doing, then perhaps this is taxable.
MARK DESROCHERS: M.D. speaking. Can I help you? Hey, what's up? Not too bad. The package today, we're looking at 80 percent of our budget we're using today, we're going to put it on what is the three of six rotations.
ALDERMAN: Sports lottery gambling is certainly on an upward growth curve, so much so that there are even tip services like this one run out of Windsor, Ontario by Mark Desrochers and Al Tashuba(?) specifically designed for Sport lottery players. So the boys like to regard their service as investment advice to intelligent speculators. They insist winning a sports lottery has much to do with shrewd analysis.
AL TASHUBA: We're not going to be saying gambling. We're not going to be saying betting. We're going to, it's not even in our vocabulary.
ALDERMAN: Sharp eyed betters need only wait for a sports lottery to do something dumb setting the odds and then pounce on the mistake.
DESROCHERS: Brian Leblanc is exploiting what they're not willing to look at. He's exploiting their discrepancies, their mistakes, maybe even want to call it their laziness or their, their....
TASHUBA: I guess if they see that people can win too in the way that he's taken the odds in their favour, they're going to have to realize that they have an internal problem. They are giving opportunities where the house edge is not with the Lottery Corporation but in fact, if done properly, with the players.
ALDERMAN: At the volume they operate at, mistakes are alas unavoidable says lottery spokesman Jim Cronan.
CRONAN: We set the odds based on the best available information to us including information that comes out of, out of Vegas on the sports line and all those other publications that provide you with background on the games, but at the end of the day, we're going to set the odds based on what we think is the, the fairest for the player. And are we going to make mistakes? Absolutely. I mean, the number of lottery games that we run on a daily basis, that's going to happen.
ALDERMAN: And there have been some howling faux pas. Like the time a bunch of Brits sitting around watching European soccer on TV at this Toronto tavern realized at game's end that they still had a couple of hours left to bet on the games that had just ended. The Ontario Lottery forgot that the matches were being played that week on Saturday, not Sunday. Imagine the giddy stampedes to the nearest lottery outlets. And on Monday, the winners were happily lined up outside the downtown Toronto lottery headquarters with $900,000 worth of winning tickets.
CRONAN: And you know what? This prize office here at Yonge and Bloor was filled to the doors and there were people standing out there. That was an error on our part.
ALDERMAN: From his scruffy living room, Brian didn't get in on that one. But the most dangerous man in Canada to sports lottery officials has done more than his share of damage in such situations. It was almost as if the millions he's won mean nothing to him. He doesn't live lavishly. His is almost a monk-like existence. His joy seems to come more from the pure pleasure of beating the government lottery system. He says he doesn't even care about hockey and other sports all that much, hardly ever leaving the house to go to a game or anywhere else. Why don't you go into an honest line of work and become a government handicapper. You'd probably be good at it.
LEBLANC: Well, I probably would be, but they've never asked me. So, I don't know how much a job like that would pay. I don't know if I'd want to work at this time. I don't need to work. So...
ALDERMAN: The games are over and tonight well, it wasn't Brian's night. It often isn't. Though when he does win, he wins big. So it's down to the cellar to file tonight's losing tickets for future reference. In case the taxman comes calling, Brian's got lots of business expenses to declare. Though he's convinced those annoying bureaucrats are out to get him just because he's got this wonderful knack. It's enough to drive a guy to continue trying to bankrupt those bastards just for the fun of it! For The National, I'm Tom Alderman.
MANSBRIDGE: Not that we're encouraging gambling, but for the record, Brian likes Baltimore in the Superbowl. Now please stay with us. We'll be back in a moment.