Lottery winner picks up $16.6m: is it his?

Sarah Coles
Gary Baron
Gary Baron

Gary Baron has gone into hiding, after collecting a $16.6 million lotteryprize. The 49-year-old courier from Geelong in Australia, was part of a 16-strong lottery syndicate with his co-workers. Baron bought the syndicate's ticket on the day of the win in October last year, but says that the prize winner was a separate ticket he bought for himself.

Chanel Seven reported that instead of facing up to the syndicate and explaining what had happened, on the day after the winners were announced, he called in sick to work. That was the Friday, and on the following Monday he resigned.

It added that the first the syndicate members knew of what had happened was when one of his fellow couriers was hired to deliver a bottle of champagne to him, to help him celebrate the win.

The Age reported that when he was challenged, Baron initially told his fellow syndicate members that he hadn't won anything: he'd inherited some money.

Most of the rest of the syndicate now plan to take him to the Supreme Court of Victoria. They point out that the group had played the lottery regularly since 2009, and that Baron had bought the tickets via an online account. They claim that this instance was no different to every other time, but that Baron had wanted to keep the cash for himself. Baron, meanwhile, told reporters that he has proof that he bought his own ticket separately.

The Age added that the fifteenth member of the syndicate will not be involved in legal action, and is now reportedly in a relationship with Baron.

Syndicate issues

It's unclear exactly what happened this time, but it's not the first time a lottery syndicate has run into trouble. In October last year we reported on the supermarket worker who failed to tell the syndicate at her store that they had won just over £4,500. She was given a suspended sentence, and ordered to repay the money.

In March 2013, meanwhile, a syndicate of employees at DVLA in Swansea fell out because three members of the 16-person syndicate hadn't paid their subscriptions that week - and some of the syndicate didn't want them to share their £1 million payout.

And in 2012 there was a row among New Jersey construction workers, over a $24 million winning ticket that one member said he'd bought for himself. A judge eventually decided he had to share the payout.

Protect yourself

It goes to show how important it is to have a sensible agreement in place when you join a syndicate, so that nobody can renege on the rules. The National Lottery recommends a written agreement, explaining the rules, the members, what they contribute and their share of any win.

The rules need to highlight the games they will play, the numbers they choose, and what they will do if someone doesn't contribute one week. It should also outline what should happen if the person buying the ticket wants to buy one for themselves too.

Members then need to stick rigidly to the rules - with no exceptions - otherwise if the syndicate eventually wins, it could bring more argument than celebration.

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