Gordon Gekko was full of it. Greed isn’t good, and the Hacienda Hills Country Club lottery ticket affair proves it. It is also an example of when the legal resolution of a controversy is very complicated, but the ethical verdict is a cinch.
For nine years, 72 year-old Jeanette French was part of the group of retirement community residents and employees at the Villages’ Hacienda Hills Country Club that pooled money each week to buy Florida lottery tickets, each putting in a dollar. She didn’t make it to the Golf Shop where the group met one lottery day, but that French didn’t think that was a problem: the established practice was that another member of the group would put in a dollar for the missing member, who would pay him or her back the next day. The day that Jeannette had other commitments, her group bought what turned out to be the winning ticket, to the tune of $16 million in the Florida lottery.
Yippee! Jeanette’s seven good friends, however, now argue that she has no right to a share of the winnings, because nobody put in that dollar for her. The after-tax difference between splitting the jackpot eight ways and splitting it among only seven is about $200,000 a share. This is enough, apparently, to prompt amnesia among all of Jeanette’s group, as in, “Golden Rule? What’s a Golden Rule?”
French and the group members have lawyered up, so this mess may end up being settled in court. Legally, the controversy is tricky. Jeanette says that she paid back the dollar she thought had been put in for her (as was the tradition in the lottery pool), and was even entrusted with the job of determining whether the ticket that was bought in her absence was a winner. The case might rest on whether there were eight dollars spent on the lottery that fateful day, or only seven. It might be decided by the acceptance of Jeanette’s dollar, provided that he can prove that she really paid it. The judge might decide that nine years of a continuing practice was sufficient to support Jeanette’s claim, or that she was just unlucky and has no right to the $1.1 million share she is seeking because she didn’t contribute to the winning purchase.
I have no idea how the case will turn out, but in this instance, the ethics verdict is much clearer than the legal one.
Jeanette French was betrayed by her greedy ex-friends, who are trying to cheat her out of the share of the winnings she had every reason to expect, based on the group’s understanding among its members and established practice. That Golden Rule the seven conspirators have conveniently forgotten was custom-made for such dilemmas. It reveals something very disturbing about human nature that out of seven co-workers, not one is insisting that the group do the right thing.
Greed may not be good, but it sure is powerful.
It’s too late for Jeanette, but I’d recommend retiring somewhere other than the Hacienda Hills Country Club.
UPDATE (10/18/12): A commenter reports that a jury rules against Jeanette, finding that her representations of playing the lottery routinely were exaggerated after she was caught in several contradictions on the stand. I cannot find any news report that confirms this. Obviously, if Jeanette really was only a periodic player and not a regular who missed putting in her dollar just this once, her treatment by the group of “friends” was fair, if not generous. If anyone has a link, I’d be grateful for it.