ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mo Money Mo Problems: Lawyer Up and Cautiously Wade into that Powerball Office Pool

You may have heard that the Powerball payoff is now at a $500+ million record.  There are a few news stories about being careful of what you wish for. (Note to next winner(s): use some of your winnings to hire someone to help you through that oh-so-troubling transition to having so much cash you don't know what to do with it.  And don't forget that you read that advice here).  

As bad as winning tons of money can be, one USA Today article advises that you should have the foresight to lawyer up before you even win anything.  The article warns to be "beware of the sharks swimming in your office lottery pool."  Here's some of the advice:

But if you join an office lottery pool, you may want to consult a lawyer first. Some workers who had thought they struck it rich have wound up in bitter litigation over who was really in the pool and who wasn't.

Lawsuits involving lottery pool winnings have been common enough to create a new set of case law, said Russ Weaver, a University of Louisville law professor. A cursory Google search shows some "Lotto lawyers" across the country who specialize in such disputes.

"Be very careful in advance," Weaver advised. "One thing you don't want to do is end up in litigation. Attorneys will eat up quite a bit of your winnings."

Weaver's advice for people who want to join workplace lottery pools: Make photocopies of the group lottery tickets and distribute them to members before the drawing so there's clear proof which tickets belong to the group and which belong to individuals.

Weaver said you need to be able to show, "Did you make the decision before or after the numbers came out?"

Just this March, a judge ordered Americo Lopes of New Jersey to share a $38.5 million jackpot with his lottery pool despite Lopes' claim that he bought the ticket on his own.

And after a March 30 drawing for a nationwide record-breaking $656 million Mega Millions jackpot, a lottery pool scandal erupted when Mirlande Wilson of Maryland came forward to claim the prize. Members of the lottery pool she participated in at a Baltimore McDonald's where she worked said they were entitled to part of the winnings, but Wilson claimed she bought the ticket on her own.

She later said she lost the ticket, and another group came forward with a winning ticket. Wilson's former co-workers sued her in October, claiming she secretly gave the lottery ticket to the second, smaller group so she would not have to split the money with as many people.

Apparently not all office pool stories end in litigation, which is good for the participants/employees.  Probably leaves the boss unhappy-  a whole lot of new employees to hire.

[Meredith R. Miller]

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