Mega Millions office pool? Get it all in writing, or you could end up in court

SHARE Mega Millions office pool? Get it all in writing, or you could end up in court
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A Mega Millions lottery ticket rests on the shop counter at the Street Corner Market, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Cincinnati. The estimated jackpot for Friday’s drawing would be the second-largest lottery prize in U.S. history with a jackpot estimated to exceed $900 million. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

They called themselves the Dirty Dozen. And when the 12 coworkers at Pita Pan Old World Bakery in Chicago Heights won a $118 million lottery drawing in 2012, they were ecstatic.

That was until 11 of their colleagues came out of the woodwork and insisted they also were in on the pool and deserved a slice of the pie.

It took three years and six law firms to settle the dispute. Eventually, the Dirty Dozen got $6 million each, while six others split $13.8 million — but nobody got a penny while the fight was tied up in court.

The lesson, according to lottery officials and lawyers, is that you need to get everything in writing before plunking down your money in an office lottery pool.

“The parties should sign a written contract, identifying each participant,” says Chicago lawyer Michael Haugh, who represented the Dirty Dozen.

“Money has a way of corrupting people,” says Haugh. “And when you get into the hundreds of millions of dollars, otherwise-honest people might be tempted to present a claim they know is invalid.”

Coworkers nationwide have been pooling their money for lottery tickets as the combined payouts for the Mega Millions and Powerball skyrocketed to nearly $1.2 billion.

By Friday night’s drawing, the Mega Millions jackpot will be at least $1 billion— which sounds great until you realize you’re 258 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win.

No matter the amount, it’s winners beware, says Chip Polston, a Kentucky Lottery spokesman. “We’ve seen office pools go really well and heard of some that have gone badly,” Polston says. “A big no-no is commingling personal and group tickets.”

Horror stories abound:

• In Youngstown, Ohio, in 2011, Edward Hairston sued cabinet company coworkers for freezing him out of a $99 million payout. He said he’d participated in an office pool for eight years and that they should have covered his contribution when he was out of work for three months with a back injury. The suit was settled out of court for a confidential amount.

• In New Jersey in 2009, Americo Lopes won a Mega Millions jackpot worth $38.5 million using a ticket he’d bought as part of a pool with five other construction workers. But instead of telling them, he asked his boss for extended time off to have foot surgery. The coworkers found out and sued him. Each collected about $2 million.

• In Grand Bay, Alabama, in 2009, former Waffle House waitress Tonda Dickerson won about $10 million in a Florida lottery with one of five tickets a regular customer gave to restaurant employees. The coworkers claimed they had agreed to split winnings and to buy the customer a pickup truck. The court said the deal was an oral contract, but unenforceable because gambling is illegal in Alabama.

Lottery contract forms are available online www.docracy.com, www.rocketlawyer.com and www.template.net.

The Illinois Lottery offers tips for pool players and an online contract that can be downloaded. Among other things, Illinois recommends:

• Only participate in a lottery group with people you know and trust.

• Pick a diligent pool leader responsible for tracking members, collecting money, purchasing tickets, monitoring winnings and keeping detailed records.

• Distribute an accounting of all money collected and all tickets purchased before the drawing.

• Give photocopies of the front and back of each ticket to all pool members.

The other option, of course, is to buy your own tickets.

“Buying tickets in a pool increases your chances of winning,” says Haugh, the Chicago lawyer. “But it also increases your chances of disagreements.”

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