How to Protect Yourself in a Lottery Pool
Lottery pools are becoming increasingly popular in Canada, but there are some unchartered areas of lottery pool activity that the Lottery Corporations and the courts have just begun to explore.
The idea of playing the lottery as part of a communal lottery pool sounds simple. A bunch of people get together and agree on the lottery that they want to play and the amount that each participant will put in. Sometimes it’s an informal pool and at other times the pool draws up an agreement which everyone signs.
Usually, one pool member is designated as the organizer. That person organizes the participants, buys the tickets and monitors the winning numbers. Some pools are comprised of the same participants who play every week while others involve revolving players.
The advantages of playing as part of a lottery pool are obvious. By joining a lottery pool you have a significantly larger budget to use to buy tickets. You can buy many more tickets than you would as an individual player. If one of the pool’s tickets wins, you share the win among all of the pool participating players.
Problems may arise when one of the pool’s tickets turns out to be a winner. That’s the point when other potential participants, who might have been excluded from the pool for that particular draw, might raise objections.
One of the biggest legal battles in Canadian lottery history occurred recently when Christopher Bates, an employee of Bombardier, sued his office lottery pool. Bates claimed that he had been wrongly shut out of a workplace lottery pool in which his co-workers won the $50 million jackpot.
Michael Cochrane of the Brauti Thorning Zibarras law firm represented Bates in his objection to his exclusion from the winning pool. Bates, a regular pool participant, was on vacation the week before his office pool won. Bates testified that after he returned from his vacation and asked the office pool organizer why he hadn’t been included on the next week’s lottery, he was told that it was because another employee still owed him money. The group didn’t win that week, but the following week Bates was excluded again that’s when the group won the jackpot.
Bates’ co-workers argued that the lottery pool was loosely organized as a “no pay, no play” pool and there was no mechanism for adding in players retroactively.
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Cochrane, Bates lawyer told the court that the co-workers should have included Bates in good faith, since he had been playing the lottery with them for years.
In the end, the case was resolved and Bates received a payout. The exact terms of the resolution are confidential, though Bates and the other pool participants are all satisfied.
Lottery pools are well-established in Canadian workplaces. The OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.) estimates there are 100,000 group lottery pools operating in Ontario. Some of these pools are casual affairs — a list of names hand-written on a piece of scrap paper, sealed by handshakes, and played intermittently. Other pools involve formal agreements that set out the terms of the pool and describe possible scenarios, which pool participants must sign in order to play.
Most pool players will never have to worry about a “what ifâ€¦?” scenario. But since the number of lottery draws in Canada is growing every year, it’s inevitable that legal disputes among group winners will grow as well.
Some recent lottery pool lawsuits include lottery winners and potential winners from around Canada.
In Surrey, B.C., a woman sued her business partner for her half of the $12.6 million winning ticket that she says the partner bought with money from the workplace cash register.
A group of Bell Canada call center employees sued the 19 lottery pool winners from their office, saying that they were entitled to part of the $50 million prize. In their suit the suing employees allege that they should have been included in on the win.
In 2008 a group of employees from the Powco Steel Co. of Barrie, Ontario lost their case against co-workers who sued them after missing inclusion in the weekly draw. The employees who sued won $4 million as part of the settlement.
Two Hamilton city bus drivers went to court in 2012 over a winning scratch card ticket that they received as a gift.
Protect your Pool
Every time a dispute is taken to court, lawyers and lottery officials remind the public that workplaces should set out clear written rules that will govern their lottery pools. Most workplace pool participants, however, don’t follow that advice. They prefer to enjoy the informal atmosphere of a workplace pool and, they say, trust their co-workers to “do the right thing” if a win does come their way.
The Bates case was a headliner and, as such, succeeded in publicizing the need for more formal agreements in office pools. Many of the provincial lottery agencies are now posting sample “group play” forms on their website to help workplace lottery pools become better organized. OLG reports that it is seeing an upturn in interest — they say that their Group Play webpage gets close to 3000 hits every month.
Michael Cochrane, Bates’ lawyer, has drawn up a model contract that he suggests as an option that will help co-workers maintain a more businesslike structure to their lottery pools. His suggestions include:
- having members sign their names and pay up-front before each draw
- declaring ahead of time that that anyone who misses a draw isn’t entitled to any winnings
- stipulating the expectations of the group leader — holding the money in trust, purchasing tickets as agreed, distributing winnings)
- declaring that the organizer won’t be legally liable if s/he forgets to buy tickets
Playing the lottery as part of a lottery pool offers more opportunities to win, thanks to the purchase of a larger pool of tickets. But joining a lottery pool can create problems if you don’t invest time and effort to organize the pool properly.