Jackpot jurisprudence: When office gambling goes bad

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It’s hopefully not a surprise to say that you face long odds in winning your office lottery pool. But if you do win, there’s one safe bet: there’s going to be a legal fight over the winnings.

Office pool lottery lawsuits are a familiar occurrence in Canadian courts. Disputes often arise over who chipped in or who bought the ticket and, with the piles of money at stake, pool members will fight hard for their piece of the pie.

The latest such case involves a million-dollar jackpot, questionable pool members, and a bit of conspiracy as well.

In 2010, a small group of Ontario HSBC workers ran an informal pool with no written rules and no accurate records (really asking for trouble). A group of five women hit it big in August 2010, winning $1 million, or $200,000 apiece.

But wait, was it five women?

Paul Spiro, who’d left HSBC after the ticket was bought, but before it won, claimed he’d contributed to the ticket and that one of the women — Tania Cam — had received his share.

A complicated lawsuit was born.

Spiro sued for his share of the winnings. The other four women then sued Cam for her share. Cam argued that she deserved a share, even though she hadn’t even worked there when the winning ticket was bought. Still following us?

Cam’s interesting defence said the pool was essentially a business partnership under the Partnerships Act, and the winning ticket was a jointly-held asset. Her counterclaim argued, in part, that Spiro’s share should be paid from the winnings of the other four women.

Those four — Elizabeth Koc, Bonnie Strapp, Valentia Skribane and Marija Cavdamova — said, with varying degrees of confidence, that Spiro had not paid for the ticket.

Funnily enough, all four women met several times to ensure they had their stories straight, but then gave conflicting testimony under cross-examination. In his decision, Judge John Murray said the women: “conspired together to defeat the bona fide claim of Spiro to his 1/5 share of the proceeds.”

Ultimately, Murray ruled that Spiro deserved a share and that Cam didn’t deserve hers. Furthermore, each of the four women would contribute $40,000 to equal Spiro’s $200,000 share, then recover whatever amount they could from Cam’s winnings.

This type of argument — who bought the ticket and who is technically in the pool — is typical. But other odd cases abound.

In December, a British Columbia woman filed suit against a co-worker who is allegedly hiding an unclaimed $50 million-winning ticket.

Back in October, two sides reached a secret settlement after a group of Bombardier employees won $50 million and were sued by a co-worker who said he was unfairly excluded from the pool.

Office pools aside, courts keep busy with lottery-related cases. Last November, Former Maple Ridge, B.C., councillor Franz Prokop lost a lawsuit claiming his ex-partner’s son stole his $3.6-million winning ticket. And last week, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear pleas from a hard-luck lottery player who missed out on a $13.5-million payday by just seven seconds.

If you are playing an office pool, at least keep it organized. Maintain records and copies of tickets so, if you ever do strike it rich, you’ll spend less of that money on lawyer’s fees.

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