A Missing Dollar, a Jackpot, and Seven Lousy Friends (UPDATED)

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.

6 thoughts on “A Missing Dollar, a Jackpot, and Seven Lousy Friends (UPDATED)

  1. My brother’s work does this sort of thing. What they do to avoid something like this is the boss lady (or whoever is in charge of the raffle, I don’t know her position in the company) gives everyone the money to buy the tickets. Everyone puts their initials on it so they know who bought the tickets. Everyone gets the same number of tickets as they bought back. If the winnings are less that $100, you keep it, and if it’s more, you split it with the person who actually bought the ticket.

    Since the proctor of the contest technically gave the money for the contest, she has the right to say “No, you two ARE splitting this, because you bought it with my money.” just in case anyone tries to pull some crap like this. Those who do pull a fast one in this way need a healthy dose of perspective.

  2. Well today a jury of her peers found for the defendants. Get the whole story before you make a judgement call. There is always 2 sides.

    • There isn’t an ethical second side in this one. The fact that the her crummy friends got away with it doesn’t mean it was right, nor does the jury verdict change my analysis on whit. Ethics and Law are two different things—as both a lawyer and an ethicist, I understand that—you obviously don’t.

      I thought there was a good chance that a jury would find for the “friends.” After all, there are seven of them. If you think juries always make the right decisions, I’d be happy to introduce your daughter to O.J. Simpson

  3. Ethics is two sided. Mrs French was caught in several lies on the stand. You do need to wait judgement and hear both sides. The Jury does get it right most of the time and this time they did. Mrs French fabricated her story and the jury saw right through it. I am sure she was distraught as were other regular participants. There was always different names on the envelope, sometimes 16 names sometimes 10 and sometimes only 7. It was not routine to cover for other people as she alleged, she NEVER covered for anyone. She thought because she played of nine years ( which she amitted was maybe only 60%of the time)she deserved it. You can’t play the lottery for nine years and and forget to get in the winning ticket and expect the lottery to pay out. This is what Mrs French expected and the jury did not agree.

    • Haven’t read the transcript or been able to find the report. The original post was based on news accounts and what she and the other side said—that she played routinely. I wrote about the facts as they were reported at the time. Based on the facts known at the time, what was done to her was unethical. If the facts were different and she lied about them, as you say, then that’s a different set of facts. This is an ethics blog, and I register analysis of particular facts as they are stated in the post. Whether those facts turn out to be right or not, the analysis is based on the facts as stated in the post.

      If you can send me a link, I’ll append the case results to the post. But stop saying “there are always two sides.” That’s a rationalization—to assess right and wrong we have to decide what they facts are as best we can, and make judgments. If she was a regular player, missed putting in a dollar one day and that was the day they hit the jackpot, the ethical thing would have been to cut her in. That was my view then, and is now. If she was lying about being a regular player, that’s a different story. I didn’t write about THAT story, because I didn’t know about it.

  4. The news has not be reported at this time but will soon…..funny how the media is not there when the verdict comes down, but all media when she was only stating her side of the story and every one runs with half the facts .

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