Lotto syndicate wins Supreme Court appeal


Four members of a winning Lotto syndicate have succeeded in their Supreme Court appeal against an order that another man is entitled to a one-fifth share of their €1.57 million prize.

The decision means Martin Horan, of Carragown, Bohola, Castlebar, Co Mayo, is not entitled to a one-fifth share of the winning Lotto draw which was held on January 6th 2001 when the jackpot was €1,577,578.

Mr Horan was also ordered to pay the legal costs of the case, which could be as much as €500,000.

Mr Horan brought his High Court proceedings alleging he was excluded from the winning syndicate by four members of it - Frank O’Reilly, a publican, of O’Reilly’s pub, Ballyvary, Castlebar; Mayo, Michael McHale, a farmer of Curranee, Ballyvary; John Joyce, a taxi driver of Keelogue, Ballyvary, and Seamus O’Brien also a taxi driver of Ballyvary.

In December 2004, the High Court ruled Mr Horan was entitled to a one-fifth share based on an oral agreement entered into in early 1999 by the five. The High Court also found Mr O’Brien, the organiser of the syndicate, had “carried” the arrears that had built up from Mr Horan until October 2000.

Under the agreement each syndicate member was to contribute IR£3 weekly which meant IR £7.50 would be invested in each of the twice a week draws. In their appeal, the four had argued Mr Horan was removed from the syndicate in October 2000, months before the win, because he was in arrears of contributions and had also allegedly told the syndicate organiser, Seamus O’Brien, to “f... off” when approached in a bar asking him to pay arrears.

Mr Horan had denied he had made such comments to Mr O’Brien, claimed he had always paid in lump sums in arrears and had never been removed from the syndicate.

Upholding the appeal yesterday, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, giving the decision of the three-judge court, said it did not seem there was any doubt, under the original agreement, that each member was to pay his contribution twice weekly to the organiser Mr O’Brien.

It was not part of the agreement that individual members could pay in arrears and still remain a member, the judge said. If that was so, Mr O’Brien would have to have paid for the tickets for all members out of his own pocket.

The only real question was whether the parties agreed to vary their original agreement so Mr Horan could remain in the syndicate and be entitled to a share of the winnings even though he was in arrears for an indefinite period, he said.

While Mr O’Brien had the authority to carry out “all practical matters” in relation to the syndicate, it did not extend to varying the terms of the original oral contract. It would not be obvious to any innocent bystander such an obligation was imposed on Mr O’Brien on behalf of the other syndicate members, he found.

Mr O’Brien, as organiser, was not under any legal obligation to Mr Horan to continue to purchase tickets for him.

The fact only IR £6 was invested in the winning draw, rather than Ir£7.50, which would have been required had Mr Horan been in it, strongly indicated Mr O’Brien bought tickets for four and not five members of the syndicate, the judge said.

The original agreement clearly permitted only those syndicate members to share in winnings who had paid their
contributions, he held. Mr O’Brien did not have authority to vary the agreement and any toleration of arrears due by Mr Horan did not have the effect of varying the agreement.

That could only be done with the agreement of the other members of the syndicate and therefore Mr Horan was not a member of it on the date of the winning draw, the judge concluded. Mr Justice Hugh Geoghegan and Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan agreed.