Office lottery pools. They're an innocent way for coworkers to bond. A collective dream to lift you out of the daily grind. But they're also potential scenes of Greek tragedy-style betrayal, greed, envy, loss and devastation.
McDonald's employee Mirlande Wilson reportedly claimed she was one of the three winners of the record-breaking $640 million Mega Millions lottery on Monday. Although Maryland Lottery officials say no one has claimed the ticket yet, a drama is already brewing at McDonald's, where employees claim Wilson's dream ticket was purchased as part of an office pool. Wilson insists that she bought it separately, and doesn't plan to share the winnings.
If true, the Maryland McDonald's dispute would be just the latest in a long series of office-lottery-pool traumas. There are the co-workers who sue each other over broken promises, the co-workers who turn on each other over lies. The co-workers who stop being co-workers, because one sails away on a five-star tour of the world, while the other wallows in misery.
After all, people change a little when they have a check for nine figures in their hands. That's been a fact of human nature for a long time, since King Midas turned his daughter into gold or M.C. Hammer filed for bankruptcy and became a pastor.
Here are 10 of the worst office lotto pool disputes:
Office Lottery Pools Gone Wrong
10 Office Lottery Pools Gone Terribly Wrong
In March, a judge ordered Americo Lopes to share his $38.5 million lottery windfall with five of his fellow construction workers, and former close friends. Lopes ran their lottery pool for years, but when he held a ticket that won big in November 2009, he didn't tell anyone, then quit his job claiming that he needed foot surgery. Lopes said he bought the lottery ticket on his own, but during the tearful trial, Lopes' former co-workers contended that the ticket belonged to the group. According to The Star-Ledger of Newark, when the judge gave his ruling, Lopes said in Portuguese: "They robbed me."
PHOTO: Americo Lopes exits the courtroom on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 in Elizabeth, N.J. A jury found that Lopes had cheated five co-workers out of their share of a $38.5 million lottery jackpot. The men worked at a construction company in Elizabeth and began a lottery pool in 2007. Americo Lopes claimed the winning numbers for the Nov. 10, 2009 jackpot were on a personal ticket and not the ticket that he had bought for the pool. The eight-member jury disagreed.
Hazel Loveday was recovering from a work injury in hospital in March, when she discovered that 12 of her fellow bus drivers in Corby, England, had won 38 million pounds ($61 million) in the EuroMillions Lottery. Loveday was "devastated," according to the Daily Mail. She had withdrawn from the office pool six months before, because as a "completely broke" single mother she couldn't afford to keep paying the 2 pounds a week. The bus drivers said that if they decided to share the pot, they'd do so privately.
PHOTO: The syndicate of bus drivers who won the 38 million in the EuroMillions celebrate with champagne in Corby, Northamptonshire.
Don't rely on those unwritten understandings between employees. That's what Jeanette French learned. She had been part of the twice-a-week lotto pool at the Villages' Hacienda Hills Country Club in Florida for nine years. But on the day the group won $16 million in 2010, she was out sick. French claims the group would regularly cover for another employee when they were away, and she'd asked a co-worker to do the same for her beforehand. That employee gave her $1 back the next day.
French sued for an eighth of the winnings. Her co-workers offered her a settlement of $7. The case is still in litigation.
If you don't make sure your money gets in the pot, no one will make sure you get any winnings. That was the lesson imparted to 30 employees at a Bell Canada call center in Scarborough. They started playing the lottery together in early 2010. But in December, several of them were transferred to the company's site in Mississauga, reported The Star. In December, 19 Scarborough workers won a $50 million jackpot. The 11 other employees filed their claims in court, asserting it was never clear that they had been excluded. "They were all partners," said their lawyer. 'They were all part of the same group for a long period of time."
Two of them said they tried to give their money to the pool's organizer, but it had been returned with "cryptic advice" that enough people had paid.
The original winners' lawyer said, "You don't need to be a lawyer, I think, to appreciate that if you pay your money, you're in; if you don't, you're not."
PHOTO: Some of the 19 lucky Scarborough workers claim a check for their lottery winnings in Toronto.
Always make sure you get a copy of the pool tickets. Stephen Kyle had run the office lotto pool with 19 other Ohio postal workers for four years, when in June 2005, he clutched a ticket worth $175,000. He claimed the winnings were all his, purchased with his personal $10. But six of his colleagues sued, and the jury awarded all 20 postal workers a slice of the prize. One of the giveaways: Kyle had always given his co-workers copies of the pool tickets, but this time he just so happened to have destroyed them.
Expect memory lapses when the winning pot gets big. When John Piccolo won $175,000, he gave his co-worker at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York the souvenir umbrella that he'd received from lottery officials. But the co-worker, and two others, wanted something more: a share of the winnings. They said they had an office pool, and Piccolo had used their money to buy the ticket.
Soon after Piccolo got the money in April 2005, however, he blew $28,000 of it, which was most of his share. The judge froze his bank account. "Mr. Piccolo did an unjust thing," a lawyer for the other three workers told the Lottery Post. "He got amnesia when he got the money."
Even if you're lifelong friends, you need to cough up the paperwork. Nine Canadian fast-food workers, some of them teenagers, won a $14 million jackpot back in September 2005. Two other employees claimed that they had always put money in the pool and were entitled to a slice of the cash. But they didn't have the paperwork to prove it. "Stabbed in the back is how I feel," Tanis McQuillan, one of the women, told CTV News. "They are people that come over for barbecues and birthday parties."
Don't boast about winning the lottery, because someone may just slap you with a lawsuit. Jamal Townes, an X-ray technician at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey, had been buying the office-pool lottery ticket since 2002. So his co-workers were suspicious when a good friend of his, Cornell Davis, and his wife Teri, suddenly won the $25.4 Mega Millions jackpot in March 2003, and Townes boasted that he'd soon be driving a BMW.
Twenty hospital employees sued the Davises, claiming that they had conspired with Townes to claim that winning ticket, so that Townes wouldn't have to give up any of the money. After it emerged that Townes had been working at the time the winning ticket was purchased, the judge ruled in favor of the Davises. It was no conspiracy; just a coincidence.
PHOTO: Jamal Townes, center, of Englewood, N.J., listens to attorney James Cinque, right, during the trial in Hackensack, N.J., to determine ownership of the $25 million Mega Millions lottery ticket.
The likelihood of winning the lottery is so dizzyingly slim -- reportedly one in 176 million last time around -- that many give up on their pools altogether. A few live to regret it. In March 2011, seven New York state government IT workers won the Mega Millions jackpot: $319 million. But five of their co-workers weren't basking in their joy. They usually paid in the pool but had opted out this one time. "I just wasn't feeling lucky that day," said Mike, who didn't give his last name, to ABC News.
"We are pretty buttoned up," said John Hilton, one of the winners. "We have a list every time you get in and if you're not, you get a line through your name and you're out."
"I don't think they'll cut me in," said Mike. "I don't think they should. I don't deserve it."