Personal Finance

Mega Millions jackpot hits $212 million. Beware going in on tickets with co-workers

Key Points
  • Handling taxes and divvying up winnings is more complicated when the ticket was purchased by a group.
  • For a single ticket, you have about a 1 in 259 million chance of winning. Buying more than one ticket does little to increase your odds.

With the Mega Millions jackpot at more than $200 million for Tuesday night's drawing, it might be tempting to go in on tickets with co-workers.

Proceed with caution.

"If you go in on an office pool, make sure it's done right," said Jason Kurland, a partner at Rivkin Radler, a law firm in Uniondale, New York.

"People don't treat it like a transaction [potentially] worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but that's essentially what it is," said Kurland, who specializes in helping lottery winners.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images staff

With no winning tickets hitting all the Mega Millions numbers on Friday, the estimated jackpot now stands at $212 million, or $126 million if the winner chooses a lump-sum payment instead of spreading it out over 30 years.

While not among the top 10 biggest prizes in the game's history, it would nevertheless be a huge amount of money to handle.

For starters, it would be much harder to follow the expert advice to remain anonymous in states where winners are permitted to shield their identity from the public. If you win in a pool, there are already potential leakers from the get-go.

Largest Mega Millions jackpots

Rank Amount Date Number of winning tickets Where tickets were bought
1$656 million3/30/20123Kansas, Illinois, Maryland
2$648 million12/17/20132California, Georgia
3$536 million7/8/20161Indiana
4$533 million3/30/20181New Jersey
5$522 million 7/24/20181California
6$451 million1/5/20181Florida
7$414 million3/18/20142Forida, Maryland
8$393 million8/11/20171Illinois
9$390 million3/6/20072Georgia, New Jersey
10$380 million1/4/20112Idaho, Washington

Past lottery winners have discovered the hard way that the more people who know they've won, the greater the chance they'll be approached for things like personal loans, handouts, investment opportunities and charitable donations.

Another challenge is figuring out exactly how to split the winnings. There are tax considerations, and some states have limits on how many checks they will cut. In that case, winners would end up turning to a more complex solution, such as forming a trust.

"Say there are 15 people who win a lot of money. Getting 15 people to agree on anything is difficult," Kurland said. "And then if they each get their own attorney, you've got 15 attorneys who are supposed to agree."

If you've already gone in on tickets or want to despite the potential pitfalls, at least make sure the pool's coordinator documents the whole affair.

This is what you do if you win the lottery

"The person should give a copy of the tickets and a list of [participants] to everyone who's in the pool," Kurland said.

This protects the people in the pool and the organizer.

"That way, if the person who's in charge also bought a ticket on their own and it ends up winning, there's a way to prove it wasn't part of the pool," Kurland said.

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The simpler thing is to just buy tickets on your own.

The odds of nabbing the Mega Millions jackpot are about 1 in 259 million for a single ticket. Buying more than one — whether through an office pool or on your own — doesn't increase your chances by much.

"You're still talking about huge odds," Kurland said.