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What Lottery Pools Are and How They Work

Boost Your Odds — Without Paying More Money

Have you ever seen one of those mega lottery jackpots giving away hundreds of millions of dollars and thought, “I’d be happy to win just a fraction of that amount?” If so, a lottery pool might be for you.

What Are Lottery Pools?

Lottery pools let you get better odds of winning a lottery without paying more money for tickets. A group of people pools their money together to buy lottery tickets. If any of the tickets they buy wins, they then split the pot. Sometimes, the pool members agree to let smaller prizes “roll over” by purchasing more tickets with them, instead of cashing out.

The result is a trade-off: The odds of winning rise, but the payout drops.

How Lottery Pools Work

Here’s an example: your office lottery pool has 50 members. Each of your coworkers contributes a dollar into the pool. The lottery pool manager then buys 50 lottery tickets at $1 apiece and holds them safely until the lottery drawing.

Now, say that lottery pool was very lucky and won a $50 million lottery jackpot. Each of the coworkers who participated will receive a million dollars (before taxes, of course). For the $1 buy-in, the lottery pool participants had 50 times the chance of winning for 1/50th of the total prize value.

Some lottery pools are more complicated. For example, some let people buy more “shares” of the pool by contributing more money. If one of the participants in the example above had contributed $5 instead of $1, and the lottery pool manager had used the extra money to buy 55 tickets instead of 50, that big spender would be eligible to receive 5/55ths of the jackpot instead of 1/50th.

What Do Lottery Pools Do With Smaller Prizes?

Of course, it’s much easier to win $5 in a lottery than $50 million, and $5 divided by 50. well, it’s hardly even worth doing the division to split the money among the lottery pool participants. So what do lottery pools do with small prizes?

There are two options, depending on the size of the prize. The lottery pool can either divide the small sum between the participants or, if the group buys lottery tickets regularly, they can choose to put the prize amount toward buying more tickets for the next lottery drawing.

For example, if the pool hit a $10 prize, instead of giving $0.20 to each participant, they could agree to buy $10 worth of additional tickets in the next drawing.

Do Lottery Pools Work?

The chances of winning the lottery are very small no matter what you do, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll hit a jackpot. But lottery pools do let you boost your chances without increasing your risk of losing your investment.

Lottery pools have won big jackpots in the past. For example:

  • A 49-person office lottery pool at SEPTA, a Pennsylvania transit agency, won a Powerball jackpot for $172.7 million in April of 2012.  
  • A 7-person office lottery pool at New York State’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal in Albany split a $319 million Mega Millions jackpot in March of 2011.  
  • An office lottery pool at Quaker Oats that shared a $241 million Powerball jackpot among 20 employees. A few months later, they won a $10,000+ prize as well.  
  • After 20 years of trying, the Mountaineer 26 lottery pool scored a million-dollar jackpot.  
  • In July of 2018, 11 coworkers decided at the last minute to form a pool to buy Mega Millions tickets. They won $543 million.  
  • In August of 2018, a group of 11 officemates hit a $4.9 million prize. They’d been chipping in $3 a week for four years!  

Who Participates in Lottery Pools?

Office lottery pools are popular because it’s easy to get a big group of people to chip in a few bucks toward a chance of winning. A pool also encourages people to get to know one another across departments and can boost morale.

But any group of people can create their own lottery pool. Groups of friends or relatives, your local sweepstakes club, neighbors in an apartment complex, or members of any other social group might be interested in participating.

Do Lottery Pools Ever Cause Problems?

Unfortunately, yes. With a lot of money on the line, people can act badly and try to cheat fellow players. Lottery pool members have been sued for various reasons, including conflicts over who participated in the pool, whether tickets were purchased privately or for the group, whether the proper numbers were played, and more.

There have also been cases where unscrupulous people collected money for lottery pools then pocketed the cash without ever buying the tickets. These problems can be avoided with a little preparation.

Are Lottery Pools Legal?

Depending on your location, lottery pools may be restricted or illegal, so it’s important to check before you decide to start one. Lottery pools are a form of gambling. In the United States, there are no federal laws prohibiting gambling, but individual states can, and do, regulate it. If gambling is prohibited in your state, lottery pools are as well.

If you’re wondering whether playing the lottery is legal in your state, check whether your state runs a lottery. If your state has no lottery, it’s a strong indication that gambling might be illegal.

You can also search for your state’s gambling laws. Findlaw.com has a list of gambling and lottery laws by state which could help.

Does Your Workplace Prohibit Lottery Pools?

Aside from laws prohibiting gambling, you also want to be sure that your workplace does not prohibit lottery pools during work hours. In some companies, gambling on the job is a fireable offense.

Before you start an office lottery pool, check your business’ code of conduct or employee handbook to see if there’s a no-gambling policy. If you’re still not sure, check with your company’s human resources department.

If you are a government employee or a civilian working at a government facility, you face additional restrictions. Lottery pools that take place “on Government-owned or leased property or on duty for the Government” are prohibited, according to Cornell Law School.

Summary

Before you get started, check with local laws and with your company’s human resources department (if you’re starting an office lottery pool) to ensure you are not breaking any laws or guidelines that could turn a fun lottery pool into a serious problem. If you decide to go ahead with your pool, make sure you have a good contract to protect yourself and your coworkers. Good luck!

Thinking of joining a lottery pool? Here's everything you need to know including how lotto pools work and how to avoid problems and misunderstandings.

Here Are the Best Ways to Protect Yourself in an Office Lottery Pool

W ith the Mega Millions jackpot up to a whopping $1.6 billion, coworkers, friends and families all around the country are surely participating in lottery pools. That’s where players share the cost to buy a greater number of tickets and, impossible as it may seem, split the huge jackpots.

But the worst case scenario, should your pool win, is that greed can take over. Winning the lottery can be a messy affair, and one or more players may try to shut the others out after discovering your pool has the winning numbers.

If you happen to be a part of a lottery pool who wins, here are some practical steps to make sure everyone gets their fair piece of the pie.

Make photocopies of the tickets

According to Rubin Sinins, a New Jersey civil and criminal lawyer, the easiest way to avoid any confusion is to be organized.

In 2009, he represented five New Jersey construction workers against their coworker Americo Lopez, who tried to cheat his lottery pool out of a $38.5 million Mega Millions jackpot that the group won. Sinins won the case and the five men took home $2 million each after taxes and lawyer fees.

“People who are getting into a pool should understand while it’s often a lark and obviously the odds are against winning, it’s very serious business because you’re talking about substantial amounts of money,” Sinins tells TIME. “So if you are in a pool and tickets are pool tickets, if they can be copied before hand that would be optimal.”

Criminal and Civil Litigation Attorney Jason Kurland, also known as the “lottery lawyer,” agrees. He said he has represented cases where people spend years fighting over jackpots won in an office pool.

Kurland said the most common problems in office pools are when regularly contributing people, who weren’t there when money was collected for the winning tickets, argue that they still deserve a share. He said problems arise when coworkers think there is an understanding that everyone in the office was going to split the winnings or there is confusion over who put money into the pool.

“This amount of money changes people,” Kurland said. “In a perfect world, there would be contracts for this stuff, but it’s impractical. So, at the very least, the person buying the tickets should photocopy them, scan them and send an email to the group simply stating: ‘these are our tickets, these are the people in our group, everyone paid, if we win a small amount we’ll roll it into the next drawing.’”

Pick a leader, and make sure you trust them

Kurland suggested picking a leader for the group, both to organize responsible buying and in case the pool wins.

Kurland said if the pool hits the jackpot, then the leader should be responsible for hiring a lottery lawyer. They should also be the point person in claiming the ticket and, after all the expenses are paid, making sure everything gets split up evenly.

In most lottery pools, there is usually one person who takes responsibility for purchasing the tickets. But, they might also decide to purchase individual tickets to increase their odds. If they win, it might be hard to tell if it was their personal ticket or the group’s.

“If it’s not done right can be a disaster,” Kurland said. “You can look at cases where there is a ‘leader’ collecting all the money, buying tickets and if not done right, that leader might win on their own ticket and no one in the pool will believe them. It’s pretty scary especially in states where it’s an anonymous winner, no one is going to know if the tickets aren’t photo copied. Even if you’re a member of the pool, you need to know what the numbers are going into the drawing.”

What to do if you think you’re being scammed

Kurland said if you’re part of a winning pool and suspect wrongdoing, you should contact the lottery commission.

“All of these lottery commissions have independent investigators. So, if you feel like something fishy is going on in your office pool, then you should report it to the lottery commission as soon as you can because they’ll have that information and conduct an investigation,” Kurland said.

Sinins said that ultimately lottery pools don’t need to be complicated as long as participants are well aware of who is part of the pool and that there is a trust among participants.

“Basically if you join a pool do it with your eyes open and understand that it is potentially a very serious endeavor because of the consequences and you certainly don’t want a dispute to arise,” he said. “Money is often the cause of disputes among people whether friends, family or coworkers. And when you add over a billion dollars, emotions would run high to say the least.”

Is it even worth participating in a lottery pool?

“When someone goes around the office collecting, you don’t want to be the one person who didn’t contribute,” Kurland said of office pools. “You kind of don’t have a choice. It’s the ultimate peer pressure.”

He said one of the pros of playing the lottery in a pool is if your group gets lucky, it can make the spotlight less bright. Sudden fame tends to be a problem for winners.

“If a group wins, it takes the pressure off of a single winner,” he said. “It alleviates the stress level of one person claiming it and the whole world looking at that person. It’s now a group that won. They just remember the group, not the individual person.”

Sinins said, for the most part, joining a pool is more of a bonding experience than a strategic tactic to win the lottery.

“A lottery pool, office or otherwise, is a fun way to have a rooting interest in a particular lottery,” he said. “There’s often camaraderie in these pools, whether among friends or workers or family in that regard. Is it smart? It certainly is fun. And if you win it’s definitely very fun.”

"If it’s not done right can be a disaster" ]]>