Your office lottery pool could lead you to millions — and millions in lawsuits

Beverly Collins, left, buys a lottery ticket from Dana Leis at the Heritage Restaurant in south Wichita on Tuesday.
Beverly Collins, left, buys a lottery ticket from Dana Leis at the Heritage Restaurant in south Wichita on Tuesday. The Wichita Eagle

On Tuesday morning Eli Albertsen, an employee at Davis Liquor outlet on North Waco, switched the Powerball sign on the counter from $400 million to $450 million after just a couple of hours because, he was told, so many tickets had been sold and the jackpot had increased.

Jackpots this high drive people to buy more tickets, including in pools of coworkers across Kansas. In a typical office pool, a number of workers will chip in a small amount of money in order to buy more tickets and increase the odds of winning — and to build camaraderie.

Trenton Tucker, a 23-year-old classroom assistant at Woodman Elementary School, received an e-mail from a PE teacher this week, asking if he wanted to throw some money into the pot again. Tucker e-mailed back that he would chip in $10 in addition to the $5 he’d won, his portion of the $100 the pool had won in the Holiday Millionaire Raffle.

Tucker said he would receive another e-mail from the PE teacher that would include pictures of all the tickets she had purchased, as well as information on how much Tucker would be paid if one of the Woodman tickets won the jackpot.

If he actually took home the estimated $20 million to $40 million (before taxes), Tucker would pay off his loans, he said. Tucker already has more than $40,000 in loans from his four years at Friends University and is taking on more to get his master’s at Wichita State. He said he’d invest the rest.

But a large portion of it could also end up in legal fees. In recent years, office lottery pools have led to a number of bitter lawsuits and large settlements, frequently due to the cursory rules of office lottery pools, or their imperfect implementation.

What happens if one of the people who is normally in the pool is sick that day or on vacation? That has led to lawsuits (including one by a former Bombardier employee who felt unfairly shut out of a $50 million purse from 24 of his co-workers).

What happens if one of the workers, who normally contributes, forgets to contribute that week? Lawsuits.

Or sometimes the person who buys the pool lottery tickets also buys extra tickets on her own, and then later claims the winning numbers were on the ticket she bought for herself. More lawsuits.

Jason Kurland, the lawyer behind TheLotteryLawyer.com, is working on a case similar to this scenario. “People just kind of buy them and trust the person, but would you really trust the person if you were doing a $450 million deal with them?” Kurland asked. “No, you’d want it in writing.”

“It’s fun to be part of a group. But if you’re in a group with 25 to 30 people, it ends up being a nightmare,” Kurland said. “Everyone wants to hire their own attorneys.”

This may be good for lawyers like him, he admitted, but from a social standpoint, he thinks it makes sense to take the long-shot odds of a lottery ticket on your own.

That’s why he recommends some common-sense steps for office pools, steps that are commonly recommended by lawyers but rarely followed:

1. E-mail a list of who is in the pool that week.

2. Copy the tickets and e-mail the copy to everyone so everyone knows which tickets are the pool tickets.

3. Keep the tickets in a safe place.

Some lawyers also recommend signing a basic contract, posting the pool rules in a public place or designating a leader who is responsible for administering the pool.

Kurland helped a group of 17 winners in New York a couple of years ago to form a limited liability corporation in order to receive their earnings. New York limits the number of people who can be listed on the winner form or will only pay out to one winner.

Kansas is one of the few states that allow lottery winners to remain anonymous. This gives them a huge advantage. A few years ago Kurland cringed when he saw a family hold a news conference for TV the day after winning the lottery. “They were telling everybody their names and the age of their kids and all that stuff,” Kurland said. “You really don’t want that out there.”

Kurland, who has been the lawyer for multiple hundred-million-dollar lottery payouts and tens of million-dollar payouts, said families like that will, after getting their name in the news, start getting phone calls from people claiming to be relatives, from friends asking for loans, from charities of every stripe and lots of investment opportunities, many of which are scams.

“That’s why it’s important to call a lawyer before you claim a large jackpot,” Kurland said. “The lottery commissions are great, but they want the most publicity so they can sell more tickets.”

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison

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