The pros and cons of office lottery pools
I don't buy lottery tickets. I know it's only a couple of bucks -- less than a cup of coffee, in fact -- but I just don't like the odds.
The odds of winning any prize in a 6/49 type of lottery, for instance, are approximately one in 32. Your odds of winning the jackpot with a single ticket, however, are approximately 14,000,000 to 1.That's because there are almost innumerable ways to choose six out of 49 numbers, and all of these different combinations are equally random. A coin has only two sides, so you'll win a coin flip 50% of the time. A Lotto 6/49 ticket, on the other hand, has 14 million 'sides' which means you'll come out ahead only 1 out of every one of those 14 million flips.
Many people are surprised to learn that the odds in the big lotteries don't change when the number of ticket-buyers surges. California State University professor Mike Orkin, author of What are the Odds? Chance in Everyday Life, notes that while bigger jackpots drive higher ticket sales, that doesn't improve your chance of winning. It does, however, improve the odds that there will be a winning ticket in that particular pool of ticket buyers.
Of course, it doesn't matter if someone else wins or they don't, it just matters that you didn't. So, how can you improve your odds?
Pundits suggest avoiding numbers that may be the more popular -- 7, 9 and 1, for instance -- since if you win, there will be a lot more winners to split the prize with. Same goes for limiting your picks to only numbers between 1 and 31, i.e., birthdays. Because the month and day birthday numbers are limited to the digits 1 to 12 and 1 to 31, your selections will exclude the numbers 32 to 49 and tilt your ability to cash in accordingly.
Similarly, don't pick numbers based on an arithmetic sequences, such as 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18. People like number patterns and a significant number of players pick this way every single week.
But there are more practical considerations to consider. If you're one of those who regularly throw a few bucks into a lottery pool at the office, you'd better ensure you all agree on just who owns what before the numbers are spit out of the drum. While your group's chances of winning are extremely remote, eventually someone always wins. And that could leave you facing a mob of coworkers demanding their share of the winnings.
Last year, 21 Albertans, all customers or employees at the local Elks Club, chipped in $5 each to buy tickets for what turned out to be a winning ticket worth $20 million. Shortly thereafter, the arguments started over who was really entitled to a share of the winnings. The dispute continues and the Western Canada Lottery Corporation has put the money in a trust account for the moment.
Just last month, a Barrie steelworker filed a statement of claim against 32 former friends for his share of a $24.5 million lottery jackpot, arguing that he missed out because he was on vacation and that other pool members had agreed to cover his contribution.
Realizing it won't ever be an issue unless you win big, decide how many people you want in your pool and what you're all willing to wager. At the same time, decide how you're going to make decisions in the future -- unanimity or majority rule. Then, appoint a group leader that everyone respects and trusts to carry out the group's wishes.
Once you've attended to these basic issues, draft a simple group or family partnership agreement. If you want to formalize things even further, take your draft to a lawyer. Doing it this way will save you money because you're not paying for the time to create the document, only to check an existing one.
Set up a group record. Most lottery corporations will be able to provide you with a basic template to get started. Or you can download a shareware application to help set up a ledger.
Your record should indicate the group leader's name, the type of game played, the date of the draw, the amounts wagered, the names and signatures of the participants and the proportion of the winnings they're entitled to. Provide everyone with copies of the tickets. Scan or photocopy them and retain the original documents for a specified length of time.
And be sure to get the rules straight. Although a lottery is the most random event going, many people prefer to play 'hot' numbers that have often won before or numbers that never seem to come up. Who determines the sequence? When, and how often, can the picks be changed? Even if your pool plays the same numbers each time, what about things like doubling up your bet when there's a particularly big prize available?
Once the pool has been established, don't add any new players. You can always stop for awhile and set up an alternate pool to accommodate new members at work. At the same time, decide how long you're willing to carry no-shows or take IOUs. What about vacations or illness? How will you handle things when someone changes jobs?