While thousands of Canadians are flocking to the United States with the hopes of winning the massive US$1.5-billion Powerball lottery, an obscure federal law could prevent any Canadian from crossing back into the States to collect their prize.
While the Powerball website states “You do not have to be a citizen or a resident to play the game. You can be a tourist,” a little-known law prevents foreigners from re-entering the U.S. with a lottery ticket.
WATCH: With the jackpot now topping $2 billion, Canadians have been snapping up Powerball lottery tickets in the U.S. But as Randene Neill reports, the rules are different for Canadians, and if you break them, you could end up behind bars.
According to the “immoral articles” law: “all persons are prohibited from importing into the United States from any foreign country any … lottery ticket, or any printed paper that may be used as a lottery ticket, or any advertisement of any lottery.”
Arthur Bodek, a U.S. customs lawyer with GDLSK based in New York, said the issue has never crossed his desk before but the statute does raise some “very real concern.”
“The plain language does seem to bar the importation of lottery tickets without qualification,” he said. “It does seem to permit the seizure of lottery tickets that are imported.”
The law also prohibits importing information that advocates for or urges treason, or threatens to take the life of or inflict bodily harm upon any person in the U.S.
“The statute is there it hasn’t been repealed. It exists, it’s valid,” said Bodek.
Lisa Yuen, a resident of Burnaby, B.C., said she was on her way to buy a ticket in Washington state before Saturday night’s draw when a border officer informed her about the law.
“We decided it would be fun to participate in the Powerball excitement. And make a border run on Saturday morning,” Yuen told Global News in a phone interview. “[The border agent] said ‘you do realize that you can’t buy the ticket take it out of the country and then come back in to claim your prize?”
She said she took a chance and purchased $34 worth of tickets and brought them back to Canada.
“There’s too much money at stake to not participate and take a chance the border guard was saying something incorrect,” Yuen said. However, she didn’t win.
The astronomical chances of matching all six numbers to win the jackpot are one in 292.2 million.
Ways of getting around the “immoral articles” could include using a safety deposit box or having a friend, an extremely trustworthy one, hang-on to the ticket for you.
Global News reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Powerball for comment but did not receive a response.
As the frenzy surrounding the record-setting U.S. lottery continues to grow, a steady stream of Canadians are piling into U.S. border towns seeking to buy tickets for Wednesday’s draw.
With files from Mark Carcasole
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