finance

The lottery ticket that's tearing a workplace apart.

A mate and I often buy the odd Lotto ticket together. We are very strict: We give each other the money before the ticket is bought (there are no IOUs), the ticket is always bought 50-50, noone can join the party late.

We can spend a good hour or so telling each other what we’ll do with our share of the money.

We get rid of our mortgages first. Then we look around to those less fortunate than our newly cashed-up selves. We pay off mortgages off for siblings, we renovate homes for our parents. We shout partners on excellent holidays, throw a tens of thousands at the charities we support, and shout our friends to a very splurge-y lunch.

Because the point is that at that moment we don’t have the money. So we can afford to be generous. Often to a fault.

But what if we did win? Would we be so noble then?

Sixteen people – once colleagues, perhaps friends – are at war today. And it’s all over money – no small amount of money either. At dispute is a colossal 16.6 MILLION DOLLARS!!

So. Much. Money.

The Age has published the very tricky story of a syndicate of transport workers and a Powerball win. Fourteen members of the syndicate say their's was one of three winning tickets in last year's October 16 draw, and that they should have a share of the massive windfall.

But Gary Baron, 49, who The Age reports has been collecting $20 a week from the group to enter the draw, says the ticket was his - not the syndicate's. Another member of the syndicate is now in a relationship with Mr Baron and is not part of action before the Supreme Court.

His former workmates became suspicious after Mr Baron called in sick the day after the draw, then resigned and bought a BMW convertible and an expensive house at Lara, one of Geelong's more affluent suburbs. He also received a bottle of champagne from Tatts Group.

And there you have it - the murkiest of monetary ponds, and a path so well-trod it's hard to believe anyone is game enough to have a little punt just for laughs.

Enormous amounts of money can be at stake.

In 2011, payment of a $50m win to a 19-member syndicate was delayed in Ontario after additional people came forward saying they had been part of the winning group.

Two years earlier, a workplace syndicate in the US won $207m. Four members who weren't at work to put their money said they were entitled to a cut. Co-workers regularly covered for each other, they said, and $20m should go to each of them. It was a view the courts disagreed with.

But blood can run bad on much smaller amounts.

There were the elderly sisters who played the pokies once a week, putting equal amounts in the pot ... until one dropped a spare 20 cent piece into the machine when the other went to the toilet and won more than $30,000. Most of that ended up in the hands of lawyers, and they never spoke again.

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There's the office worker who contributed to a syndicate who put winnings under $20 into a jar and divided it equally at the end of the year. Problem? She wasn't at work the day it was divided - so they just cut her out of the pool.

Then there was the group who worked at an Australian media company who had bought a Lotto ticket for years - and finally won the big one. They knew the numbers, they knew they were suddenly rich. There was just one problem: after religiously entering countless draws, the person in charge of buying the ticket just, well, forgot.

Some of the people she works with still haven't forgiven her.

There are no rules for how a syndicate operates.

But there are guidelines that can make the difference between everyone skipping to happily to the bank - or unleashing the lawyers on each other.

1. Create a contract.

Cover off the big questions. What if someone hasn't put in their money the week the ticket wins? How will it be divided? Can you use auto-pick? Who is the contact point for the win? What happens when someone leaves the syndicate, or the company?

The contract doesn't have to be long or wordy or written by someone with a legal degree. It does have to be clear and understood by everyone in the syndicate. Get all syndicate members to sign it.

2. Give everyone a copy of the ticket. 

That way, everyone knows the syndicate's numbers. It removes a lot of the wiggle room in the event of a dispute.

And if you buy a ticket of your own, write in very large letters on it "I bought this ticket for myself", then sign and date it.

3. Make sure everyone knows who is part of the syndicate. 

That way you'll avoid issues around occasionally contributors and people on leave.

4. Know who is responsible for buying, then holding, the ticket.'

Make sure other people know where it's kept. Just in case.

It all begs the question: Why do we start out with such theoretical generosity, only to see it all-too-often evaporate the moment a cash-laden ship comes in?

How can it be that friendships that mattered suddenly come second to so-called filthy lucre?

Are disputes like these pure greed - or just an utterly practical approach? Is all fair in love, war and lottery wins - and are we just kidding ourselves if we think otherwise because we haven't been in the position?

Or does it really just boil down to this: too much money never enough. We'll always want more, and bugger the fallout.

We'd love to know what you think. Leave your comments below.

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