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Legal Advice on Mega Millions Office Pools

With Friday’s Mega Millions jackpot now at $640 million, many coworkers may be piling their cash together to vie for a piece of the record jackpot. They might want to consult a lawyer first.

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Before tossing money into an office pool, there are steps workers can take to ensure they get their fair share of any winnings, says New Jersey attorney Eric Kahn. He represented the five construction workers who sued a coworker for their cut of a $38.5 million payout. “People assume they’re never going to win the jackpot,” he says. “ “Then when they win, there’s a problem.”

Kahn’s clients sued coworker Americo Lopes, who they claim told them he was on leave for surgery in November 2009, when in fact he had won the big jackpot. When another person in the pool learned of his winnings a few months later, he discovered Lopes won on a date they played as a group. A jury awarded the former co-workers $4 million each. But most employees can avoid the courtroom with some simple steps, says Kahn.

For starters, make a list of the names and numbers of everyone in the pool, he says. A written contract isn’t necessary, but there should be no question about who played. Everyone who puts in cash should have a copy of the ticket. And if the person responsible for buying the ticket also plays the lottery regularly on their own, tickets that are meant to be shared with co-workers should be clearly identified. “You really want to eliminate any possibility of someone saying ‘I should have been included and was not,’” says Kahn.

There should also be a provision for vacations, since even loyal participants in an office pool might miss one particular drawing, Kahn says. Set up a system where people can put in their contribution before they take off on a trip or if they should just stay out of the ticket that week, he says. Last spring one worker in New York missed out on his share of a $319 million jackpot because he didn’t have the two bucks to put into the pool.

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    • Someone is already begging for money and it’s hours before the drawing. It would be nice to win, but I would only want to win if I could remain anonymous.

    • The expected value is not 1:1 after a cash payout and taxes. It is more like 23 cents.

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    • Good article. I wouold add the following:

      (1) It is critical to purchase and distribute the pool’s tickets BEFORE the drawing.

      (2) Someone should sign the back of the tickets in the event of theft.

      (3) Remember that in some states, only one person can claim tghe prize, which means one person will get hit with the tax implications. Create a trust or LLC so that the tax implications can be shared amongst everyone in the pool.

      (4) In lieu of asking who wants to participate at every drawing, it might be more practical to ask who wants to be a “permanent” or “regular” participant in the pool, and give people the opportunity to Opt-Out of participation one or two days before the drawing. Spares you the headache of some one claiming they should have been in the pool, and filing legal papers on the pool. Whether distributing copy of tickets on paper or email, you may want to consider adding a statement that “only the tickets purchased on behalf of the pool, as copied on this medium, may be claimed by the pool. No other tickets acquired by the purchaser of the Pool’s tickets, may be claimed by the pool.”

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