Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Office lottery pools

More money, more problems. After 36 consecutive drawings without a winner, the next Powerball drawing has a prize of approximately $1.75 billion. Many workplaces will be organizing pools to buy as many chances as possible. With that much money on the line, however, if you’re office pool is lucky enough to win you’ll also probably be unlucky enough to be sued.

Everyone is your friend until you’re looking at nearly two billion dollars; then greed causes those friendships to go out the window and lawyers to be hired.

With lottery pools, the legal risks (if you are lucky enough to win) fall into two major categories.

1. An employee claims the winning ticket for themself.

For example, in 2009, Americo Lopez quit his job after discovering that one of the office pool Mega Millions tickets he was holding won the $38.5 million jackpot. When his co-workers learned of his deception, they sued, and each collected their share of the jackpot.

2. An absent employee was not able to participate.

For example, in 2011, Edward Hairston sued his cabinet-company coworkers, claiming they froze him out of their $99 million payout. His lawsuit claimed that he had participated in the office lottery pool for eight years, and his co-workers failed to cover his ante while he absent with a back injury. The parties reached a confidential settlement.

So, what can you do to mitigate these risks in your office pool?

The best, and safest course of action, is to draw up a written contract for each member of the pool to sign. These agreements, however, are exceedingly rare.

There are other less formal things you can do to limit risk:

💸 Appoint one person to act as the point to collect money, buy tickets, and act as custodian.

💸 Collect all money up front, before buying tickets, and only buy as many tickets as you have cash collected.

💸 Keep a list of who has contributed to the pool, and, if you want to be extra cautious, have each participant sign something evidencing their participation.

💸 Distribute copies of the purchased tickets to all participants prior to the drawing, so that there is no dispute between a pool ticket and a personal ticket.

As for anyone who suggests that employers altogether avoid office pools because of the legal risks, I say, “Stop being such a killjoy.”

Lots of things have risk. I drive to work everyday even though my odds of dying in a car crash during my commute are 1 in 34,000. My odds of winning the Powerball, on the other hand, are 1 in 292.2 million. In other words, you are 8,600 times more likely to die on your way to work than to win the lotto when you get there.

So why not have a little fun, promote some office camaraderie, and spend a few dollars. And, in the extremely rare chance that you actually win, the worst that will happen is that you might have to wait a bit for your pot o’ gold while some legal issues sort themselves out.