Includes video report
A disputed $50 million lottery win is set to enter civil court as the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation pays out about $31 million of the prize to its 19 original claimants, leaving the remainder to be fought over in court.
Nineteen employees of a Toronto-area Bell call centre originally claimed the $50 million Lotto Max prize from Dec. 31, only to have their claim disputed by several other people who said they should have been on the list, as well.
For the past several weeks, the OLG has been conducting an investigation into the claim, consisting largely of interviewing all the would-be winners to see if their stories match up. Awarding part of the prize, and pouring the rest into court, indicates there's no suspicion of criminal activity — but also that the OLG investigators, who've been in discussions with lawyers for both the original and the additional claimants, believe there's some credence to the claims that more people should have been included.
The $50 million prize is being divided into 30 shares of approximately $1,667,915.53, including interest — that means $31,690,395.07 is being paid out Monday and the remaining $18,347,070.83 will be decided in court.
Lawyer Marek Tufman, who is representing nine of the additional claimants, said there may be as many as 11 who eventually come forward.
Mr. Tufman said he'll file a statement of claim on behalf of his nine clients by the end of this week.
"I think it is more fair than holding up the group of 19 until such time as everything is settled," he said. "This way they're going to get the undisputed shares, and it preserves the balance of the shares to be argued over."
Mr. Tufman said he's optimistic the matter can be settled out of court.
"It's always in the interest of all parties to settle if it can be done."
Playing in a lottery pool can be tough luck
Play the lottery with buddies from work.
Spend an eternity, a fortune, and your sanity tussling over the cash.
The scene playing out for two groups of employees in the Toronto area — each claiming a $50 million jackpot, only to find part of their cash payout put on hold because of competing claims of who bought in, who meant to buy in and who should have been included — plays into some of the most basic psychosocial instincts of trust and group loyalty.
The case of a group of Bell employees wanting in on a prize claimed by 19 of their colleagues is set to become a civil suit after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. divided the $50 million prize into 30 shares on Monday. Nineteen of those shares were paid out to the original co-workers who claimed the cash; the other 11 were put into civil court, where they await a legal tussle over the winnings.
It will build on a growing, often fuzzy file of Canadian lottery-dispute case law, in which trust principles (what should you reasonably have expected from your co-workers?) often come into play as much as oral contracts and written evidence.
But the unfolding drama also offers a window on the bizarre psychological politics of workplace lottery pools gone wrong. The combination of group loyalty, the rush of gambling victory and individuals' conviction that they might be cheated out of rightfully won prize money converge to ensure these cases become protracted, hard-fought and bitter.
In six months, three of the OLG's 12 group payouts over $1,000 resulted in disputes. And the workplace fallout can get ugly.
Just ask former workers at the Powco steel plant in Barrie, Ont. For three years, 27 claimants of a $24.5 million jackpot duked it out with four people who also claimed part of the money. They finally settled over Christmas, 2010, but not before the dispute hijacked their lives, turned their workplace toxic and drove most of them to seek employment elsewhere.
"It's supposed to be the happiest time in your life, and it's anything but that," said Travis Rommelaere, who felt forced to quit his job at Powco shortly after the victory that wasn't — he just couldn't take the work environment.
"These people who lodged a complaint, they'd be five, 10, 20 feet away. ... Working beside them for the next three or four months, you feel like smashing them in the face."
Even Nick Lymbertos, among the four additional claimants who got some of the money after the out-of-court settlement, is upset at how things turned out.
"No, I'm not happy. I'm not happy about what happened: Three years of our life went to hell," he said. "I'm done with it.
"We settled. ... When you settle, nobody wins."
Don't get Donald Taylor started: The McGill psychology professor doesn't like the way lotteries hijack meritocratic societal assumptions — "that you get rewarded depending upon your ability and effort."
Lottery jackpots throw that concept out the window — but at the same time, he said, winning big can create a "false sense of deserving."
"People believe they caused themselves to win. ... The implications are that when you win, instead of saying, 'God, that's dumb luck,' you say, 'No, I caused it to win.'" And that makes it all the harder to relinquish a portion of the winnings: It becomes a matter of principle.
On Monday, there was a lot of relieved laughter at the OLG prize office as an oversized novelty cheque was handed over and giddy co-workers posed for photographs. But the 19 employees at the Toronto-area Bell call centre argue the number on the cheque — $31,690,395.07 — was $18 million short. And they say they're prepared to go to court to get their due even if it takes years.
And if they stick it out, it likely will take years — despite assertions by lawyers for both sides that they're hoping for a speedy resolution.
Marek Tufman is becoming an expert at this: He represented Salomir Kawolewski, one of the claimants in the Powco case. This week, he plans to file a statement of claim on behalf of the nine of the 11 Bell employees who say they should be part of their co-workers' $50 million jackpot.
"It usually all comes out of the woodwork when there is a win," he said. "People look at much more money, usually, than they have ever, ever, ever seen in their lives. And other emotional factors take over. And they get saucer eyes ... and they forget the colleagues with whom they worked all these years, and with whom they're still working, and with whom they're participating in all this stuff — they perhaps ought to be part of that jackpot, as well."
The prospect of that kind of cash "changes people on both sides of the equation," he said. "People who won, not surprisingly, they want to win more. And people who are told they didn't, they would like to have a piece of that pie, as well.
"The question is, are they entitled to it?"
At the same time, in cases involving workplace lottery pools, most rules of group dynamics align initial groups of claimants against any other would-be winners.
Tim Salomons, who studies the brain and behaviour at the Toronto Western Research Institute, said when it comes to choosing between a settlement and a pricey, protracted court case, individuals would probably be more likely to take the deal — they might just say, "'Well, it's in my individual interest to collect the money and my best chance of getting the most money is just to settle this peacefully.' I think people in group decision-making will behave less rationally because of the group identity. So if the group sort of ginned them up to say, 'We can't do this, this person doesn't belong' ... they might behave less rationally."
Saul Glober, the lawyer representing the 19 Bell employees who posed with their cheque Monday, said his familiarity with estate law will help him in this case: He sees similarities between employees tussling over lottery cash and family members feuding over a disputed will.
"I'm used to family disputes, which these things are," he said. "You get a big group with diverse views. ... They all know each other — in fact, some work across the desk from each other. That's almost family-like. And it's very difficult to go to work each day and look across the table and say, 'You're attempting to do something nasty to me.'"