Congrats, Your Office Pool Won The Lottery! Prepare For A Headache

Winning the lotto with your coworkers will tear your office apart

Jan 13, 2016 at 3:09 PM ET

With the Powerball jackpot at a record $1.5 billion, everyone wants a piece of the action. But if your own office is doing a pool, things get a lot more dicey, in your wild billionaire fantasies actually become a reality. Office pools are almost always a bad idea—unless you take precautions.

Instances of office lotto wins gone awry are a dime a dozen. Take the case of Americo Lopes, who had been pooling money with lotto tickets with a group of fellow construction worker friends for years. In 2009, they won a $38.5 million Mega Millions jackpot, but Lopes when took the $17.4 million payout, he left out a minor detail; he didn’t tell his friends. Of course when they found out, they sued him, and in 2012, a New Jersey court ordered he pay each of his co-workers $2 million.

Then there’s the case of Tonda Lynn Dickerson, an Alabama Waffle House waitress who hit it big in 1999. Edward Seward, a frequent patron of the restaurant, gave Dickerson and four of her fellow servers some tickets he had picked up in Florida. Dickerson had a winning ticket for a $10 million prize. Her coworkers said they had all agreed that if they ever won, they’d split the kitty among them. But Dickerson says she didn’t remember ever having a conversation like that. Her former friends sued, and although an Alabama court found there to be a valid verbal agreement between the Waffle House workers, gambling is illegal in Alabama, which meant their contract was void. A newly friendless Dickerson was allowed to keep her winnings for herself.

Then there’s the one about the group of 12 workers at the Pita Pan Bakery in Chicago who were sued by five of their coworkers who said they were cheated out of the $118 million winning ticket purchased in an office pool. And the story of the Ohio man who sued 22 of his coworkers at a cabinet company for icing him out of a $99 million lotto prize while he was out of work for a back injury. And who can forget the 2005 tale of California’s “Lucky Seven,” a crew of lab techs who won a $315 million jackpot, and were promptly sued by four coworkers who said they were owed a piece of the pie? The stories are common enough that you could probably predict how they all will go. In the end, a lottery win for an office pool demolishes friendships and tear entire offices apart. Greed is a hell of a thing.

Jason Kurland is a lawyer with Certilman, Balin, Adler & Hyman who has represented more than 10 lottery winners, the most high-profile of which were a $254 million Connecticut Powerball winner in 2011 and a $336 million Rhode Island Powerball winner in 2012. He told Vocativ you have to be very, very careful about an office pool.

 “There are pros and cons. Pros, there are only two of them. There’s office camaraderie and bonding with your coworkers. And if you actually win, you get to share the limelight. It’s a built-in anonymity.” But Kurland says that’s where the positives stop. “Other than that, [office pools] turn into nightmares because people don’t do it the right way. If you were going to have a $1.5 billion transaction would you do it verbally or would you do it in writing? You’d do it in writing.”

What he means is you need to keep a record how you’re doing the pool. Make copies of the tickets, and email them out to everyone who is participating. Let everyone in the pool know they’re in the pool, and if there’s a running office pool that includes someone who isn’t participating in a one-time pool, let that person know. Otherwise, you might end up like the guy with the back injury we mentioned before who missed out on his share of $99 million. You might even want to draw up an agreement for your pool. Here’s a sample form, via RocketLawyer.

The odds of winning the jackpot are bad. About one in 292 million bad. But if you do win, congrats, and here’s a friendly tip: shut up.

“The other thing is, if you win, you want to stay quiet,” Kurland suggests. Don’t invite in the attention, because it usually doesn’t end well.

So are you and your giddy coworkers going to become instant millionaires tonight? Probably not! But if we’re being optimistic here, one in 292 million is still a chance, if a minuscule one. Someone’s gotta win, though and in the event it could be your office pool, make sure you cover your ass. Or plan on spending the years you should be spending sailing around the world in your yacht full of money tied up in a complicated and messy court battle.