Office lottery pools can be great fun … as long as rules are followed

As big-game lotteries more frequently have hundreds of millions of dollars in the weekly pot, office lottery pools are becoming commonplace. They can be great fun as employees build camaraderie and add excitement to the work day. Chipping in a few dollars buys a short-term fantasy of winning big with your coworkers. But there are pitfalls to consider before the pool is established and considering what would happen if the pool wins.

Employees should check with Human Resources or Executive staff member to be sure they are agreeable to the use of company email and company time for a pool. Also, if the pool organizers need advice with such an agreement, they may wish to consult with an attorney.

If there’s not too much disruption to the workday, most employers agree that this is a good way to build team spirit and stir up excitement.

When organizing the pool, consider that not everyone will want to play, for a variety of reasons. Their religion may frown upon gambling, they may already be in a pool among family or friends, they may not have the financial freedom to participate, or they may just want to buy their own tickets individually. Be sensitive to these reasons.

When forming a lottery pool, have a trusted, designated person lead the pool. That person, or persons, will be responsible for collecting pool funds and tracking contributions as they come in. There should be rules set for how the money is collected and how tickets will be bought and any winnings distributed. A simple agreement can cover how this would be handled and there are free templates available online. Once an agreement has been written, that can be used as a master template for all pools going forward.

Here are some additional tips for starting the pool and in creating the agreement:

  1. Designate the leader for the pool. That person will oversee collecting the money from individuals and tracking contributions as they come in. If you’re the leader, have an open spreadsheet on your desktop or smart phone to document who contributed. You want to assure participants that their money and any tickets purchased will be kept in a safe place.
  2. As the leader, establish the rules for the game. Write these rules into a written agreement for players to sign as they contribute the funds. The agreement should include:
    1. When the tickets will be bought and for which game and drawing date.
    2. If there are small winnings, how will the winnings be distributed? Will they roll over to the next drawing if there is no big winner, or will the smaller winnings be divided up and distributed. There needs to be 100 percent agreement on this.
    3. If a large jackpot is won, how will the money be taken? Will it be taken in a lump sum or taken in annuities over a defined number of years according to the game rules? Will it be collected by each individual in the game or would there be a trust established? The leader, or any other person in the pool should never agree to taking the winning wholly by themselves, then distributing the money. There are tax implications that can be avoided.
    4. How would media coverage work in the case of a large win? Would you be interviewed as a team or take the winnings individually and try to avoid any media coverage?
    5. To ease an employer’s fears, would employees agree to stay in their positions until sufficient notice can be given and other remaining staff members be trained to take over the winners’ responsibilities?
    6. The agreement should state how the if the numbers will be “easy picks” or some/all selected by the leader and/or participants.
  3. If the leader is buying individual tickets for themselves, they should disclose it. They should be sure to copy the tickets purchased for the pool and distribute copies to each participant before the drawing.

In the amazing event that the office lottery pool hits it big, you’ll want it to be a positive event since everyone’s lives will most likely change, hopefully for the better. It would be unfortunate if the winnings were hung up in court for years because simple rules were not followed. The odds are certainly against this happening, but the fun is real and can be enjoyed by many.

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Frank Lewandowski, Benefits Program Manager