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Office lottery pool

By Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., Managing Editor in collaboration with Robert Smithson, Lawyer, and Nancy Currie, assistant editor at HRinfodesk.com---Canadian Payroll and Employment Law News, May 2007

Our latest HRinfodesk Poll indicates that a majority of workplaces have office lottery pools and that employers do not seem to have any problems with them. The question asked in the poll was: Do you allow employees to have a group lottery pool in the workplace? Specifically 61.7% of respondents answered yes they do allow office lottery pool in their workplace, and 27.9% know of it but don't interfere. Because office lottery pools are fraught with potential for legal squabbling, and concerns about any kind of gambling on employer premises, it is strongly recommended that when employees want to start an office lottery pool, they should always consult and obtain management approval first.

Employees should always put a lottery pool agreement in place, write down the game they are playing, with the names of all the members, what happens with any winnings and what happens if a member has not paid their share. If there is a dispute, they will have this document to answer any questions.

In addition, Robert Smithson, a labour and employment lawyer at Pushor Mitchell wrote an article on office lottery pool that examines several problems with the typical office lottery pool and provides some basic rules for poolies aimed at eliminating squabbles and the need to start hiring lawyers the minute they find themselves with a winning ticket. (See below)

Perfecting the Office Lottery Pool

By Robert Smithson, Lawyer, Originally Published on Legal Ease

The office lottery pool seems as Canadian as hockey, doughnuts, and Thanksgiving in October. As the folks at an A&W outlet discovered recently, it is also fraught with potential for legal squabbling.

Given the amount of money at stake it's surprising how little attention is given to the organization and administration of the pool. The typical situation is this: some unlucky person is stuck with the weekly task of collecting money and buying tickets; anyone and everyone who wants to contribute a few bucks is allowed in the pool; and in most cases there's never an issue because the winnings never amount to anything significant.

It's all fun and games until someone hits the jackpot. The thing about lotteries is that, while your group's chances of winning may be (really) remote, eventually someone always wins. As long as you are purchasing tickets, there's a chance you'll end up facing a mob of poolies demanding their share of the winnings.

There are several problems with the typical office lottery pool. Here's why: in an ideal world, there would be one person buying one ticket for one draw. In the event of a winning ticket there would be no competing claims for the money.

In the real world, the situation is complicated by the presence of numerous pool members and multiple tickets for draws taking place over an extended period of time. Existing poolies abandon ship, others join up, old tickets and small cash prizes generate more tickets (which may themselves earn additional free tickets in a future draw) and the whole thing goes on endlessly.

The result is a situation in which it is virtually impossible to distinguish which poolie invested in which ticket. There is no obvious way to determine precisely who should share in the eventual winnings. So, here are some basic rules for poolies aimed at eliminating squabbles (and the need to start hiring lawyers the minute they find themselves with a winning ticket).

First, the office lottery pool should not be a single, long-running, continuous affair. It needs to have clear breaks. One way to do this is to halt the pool once a big jackpot has been won. Use up any remaining free tickets, distribute any accumulated winnings, and allow a clear break in time before the next pool makes a fresh start. This allows existing players to abandon the pool and new ones to enter without ever muddying the waters of entitlement to winnings.

Second, the group of poolies must be clearly established at the outset of a pool and diligently controlled throughout. The pool administrator must keep accurate records of which co-workers have entered each pool.

Third, once the pool has commenced, no new poolies should be allowed to join until the current pool ends and a new one is commenced. I call this the “no Johnny-come-latelies” rule. This prevents late-arriving players from laying claim to winnings to which they did not contribute.

Fourth, a poolie entering the pool must commit to staying in for whatever number of weeks it takes for the jackpot to be won and the current pool to wrap up. I call this the “Hotel California” rule (fans of the Eagles will understand why). This prevents poolies abandoning ship and then claiming a share of winnings obtained after they left.

As a lawyer, I can't help but recommend that you establish the rules in writing and have each player sign on at the outset of each session. Realistically, I don't expect that to occur. But, at the very least, the pool administrator should communicate the rules to each poolie at the outset of each new pool.

Follow these rules and you'll be well on your way to a dispute-free jackpot experience. I can't do anything about the poor odds of hitting the jackpot, but following these rules will definitely decrease the chances of having to pay a chunk of your winnings to lawyers.

Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer at Pushor Mitchell in Kelowna. For more information about his practice, log onto www.pushormitchell.com. If you have a labour or employment question for him to answer in a future “Legal Ease”, email him at smithson@pushormitchell.com. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.