Tossing a few bucks into your office lottery doesn't sound like the type of thing that would end in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Then again, no one ever expects that their little office pool will actually win the lottery and suddenly be worth $118 million.
With that much money at stake, coworkers can turn nasty quickly, as evidenced by a lawsuit filed by two employees of a Chicago bakery alleging that their coworkers unfairly cut them out of their portion of the winnings.
For roughly a year, the two employees -- Jose Franco and Marco Medina -- had participated in a lottery with their fellow bakery workers, kicking in a few dollars every Monday and Thursday to buy tickets in Illinois' Mega Millions lottery. On Tuesday, May 1, the group won $9 during a drawing and agreed to use the money to buy tickets for another drawing slated for Friday, May 4th. Members of the group collected money on Wednesday to buy tickets for the Friday drawing, but did not ask Franco or Medina to contribute, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Incredibly, the office pool won the $118 million grand prize in the May 4th drawing, but because the two men had not contributed on Wednesday, their coworkers declined to share any of the winnings with them. Erron Fisher, the attorney representing the two bakery employees, claims that the men are still eligible for the winnings because they participated in the pool that won the $9 that was used to buy tickets for the Friday drawing, according to the Tribune, which also reported that the lawsuit has asked the lottery to hold off on paying out the winnings until the case is resolved.
Franco and Medina aren't the first people to enter an office lottery pool, miraculously have the pool win the lottery, and then find themselves in the courtroom battling their coworkers for a share of the winnings. In March, a jury ruled that Americo Lopes, a New Jersey construction worker who won $24 million in the state lottery in 2009, had to pay $4 million to each of his five coworkers who alleged that Lopes's winning ticket was purchased as part of a pool.
On the other hand, not all office pools end in lawsuits. In April, three Maryland public school employees won $158 million after they each pitched in $20 to buy tickets in the Mega Millions lottery. In an effort to remain anonymous, the trio nicknamed themselves "The Three Amigos," and vowed to return to work, despite each receiving a cash payout of $35 million after taxes.
Lotteries have become big business in recent years as state governments, looking to compensate for declining tax revenues, have sweetened the pot to attract more players. For example, Arizona, which was recently facing a $3 billion budget deficit, has attempted to fill the gap partially by revamping its lottery, according to Bloomberg. The state introduced new games, increased the jackpot and aggressively marketed through social media, producing a 14 percent increase in lottery ticket sales from 2009 to 2010.
Other states have followed suit with equally good results. Of the 43 states that offer lotteries, 26 experienced increased revenues during fiscal year 2010, with total sales up 3 percent to $56 billion, and record-setting ticket sales in 17 states, reported Bloomberg.
If you're looking for an excuse to avoid the lottery, the flashier marketing and increased jackpots won't help. Nor will a recent article in The Wall Street Journal that cited four different studies concluding that most lottery winners don't spiral into misery from their windfall, as the media sometimes likes to suggest, but rather end up just fine, and a whole lot richer.