Office lottery pools offer some fun, but watch pitfalls
DES MOINES — In workplaces across the nation, Americans are inviting their colleagues to chip in $2 for a Powerball ticket and a shared daydream.
The office lottery pool is a way to improve your odds and have a little fun with co-workers.
And besides, who wants to be the only person at work the next day when everyone quits?
With $600 million on the line, this is the time to play. It’s the largest-ever Powerball jackpot and the second-largest world jackpot ever. And it could get even bigger before Saturday’s drawing.
The Multi-State Lottery Association recognizes the popularity of work pools, especially when the stakes are so high. In the last few years, lottery officials have offered tips for organizing pools.
‘‘The appeal is they can stretch the value of their $2,’’ said Norm Lingle, executive director of the South Dakota Lottery and chairman of the Powerball Executive Committee.
But it’s important to be careful. Workplace pools that yield big jackpots sometimes result in lawsuits, broken friendships, and delayed payouts. Follow these steps to make sure you’re ready to divide your winnings.
Know the rules
Lottery officials encourage pools organizers to lay down rules, put them in writing, and distribute the details to all participants before the winning numbers are drawn.
Linda Golden, of Gettysburg, Pa., may set the bar for how to manage an office lottery pool. An employee for more than three decades at a printing company called Quad Graphics, Golden has organized a pool for years and requires everyone to sign in, showing they contributed.
She had 14 co-workers on board when the jackpot pushed past $200 million in late March.
They only won $4. But instead of distributing what would have amounted to about 27 cents a person, Golden bought more tickets for the $1 million Powerball drawing on March 27 without telling the others.
She hit the jackpot and never gave a thought to keeping the winnings all for herself. One co-worker was a woman who used a walker because of a foot problem. Another had just been to the emergency room because of a knee problem.
‘‘I say it over and over again. That ticket we won was meant for those two ladies and the rest of [the group] is there for the ride,’’ she said.
After taxes, each person ended up with about $50,000.
Golden’s winning ticket has only stirred more excitement in her office for Saturday’s giant Powerball jackpot. She estimated she had 26 people in her pool this time.
‘‘This time, it’s starting to take up so much of my time. So many people wanted to join,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s kind of getting out of hand.’’
In Collinsville, Ill., just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, seven firefighters were pooling their money for a $14 ticket that offered seven plays.
Mike Harris keeps the pool in order by distributing a photocopy of the ticket to each contributor and scrawling their names on the handout. To him, it’s just common sense.
‘‘There’s no confusion,’’ he said. ‘‘This is the ticket we have.’’
The good and the ugly
If you’re the person buying the tickets, make sure co-workers are aware if you plan to buy personal tickets on the side.
That didn’t happen in Indianapolis, where a hairdresser became involved in a lawsuit with seven of her former co-workers.
Christina Shaw claims the winning ticket wasn’t part of an office pool. The hairstylists say they had all verbally agreed to share any winnings from any tickets purchased at the same time as those for the pool.
‘‘People don’t realize that this is serious business,’’ said New Jersey attorney Rubin Sinins.
He represented five construction workers who claimed a colleague cheated them out of a share of a multimillion-dollar lottery jackpot.
The man claimed he won the 2009 jackpot on a personal ticket — not with a ticket he bought as part a lottery pool.
There’s also an Ohio man who missed his weekly lottery pool because of an injury, then later sued his co-workers for a chance to share their winning $99 million jackpot.
‘‘When you go in with people in an agreement that involves potentially millions of dollars, you’re talking about a contract,’’ Sinins said. If a ticket wins, ‘‘then issues can arise as to who’s actually part of the pool, who’s entitled to the money, what proofs there are to establish that.’’
It’s smart to plan. But it also can feel silly to plan for something that is nearly impossible to win. Or is it?
The chances of winning the latest jackpot are about 1 in 175.2 million.
That’s how many ways a person can combine the numbers to make a play. But Sinins said it’s still important to consider what would happen if you somehow overcame the odds.
‘‘If there was no chance, you wouldn’t do it,’’ he said. ‘‘And you obviously want to do it. So you want to make sure that there’s no problem afterward.’’