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 of all time. And it could get even bigger before tonight’s 11 o’clock 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.
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 pool 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, but 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.
After taxes, each person ended up with about $50,000.
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 said they all had 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.
ABOVE: Eight co-workers in the Monongalia County Tax Office claimed a $276 million Powerball prize in Charleston, W.Va., in 2008. Work pools for big jackpots are often fraught with controversy, resulting in lawsuits, broken friendships and worse: delayed payouts. LEFT: Justin Wilson, 3, played with his twin brother Jayden Friday as people waited in line to buy Powerball tickets outside the Bluebird liquor store in Hawthorne, Calif.×