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Co-workers who shared $1M lottery jackpot: 'It feels good'

Jennifer Maldonado opted out of her new coworkers' lottery pool but when they won $1 million of the Powerball jackpot, they decided to let her in on the winnings.

When Jennifer Maldonado's office lottery pool hit a $1 million Powerball jackpot, she kicked herself for not chipping in $20. But her co-workers were not going to let her go without that winning feeling.

Maldonado has only been working as an administrative assistant at Keller Williams Partner Realty in Plantation, Fla., for three weeks, but her 12 colleagues have decided to cut her in on the winnings, even though she hadn't contributed to the pool. Alongside Maldonado and the rest of the winning group, Laurie Finkelstein Reader, the office worker who organized the pool, spoke with Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Thursday about the group's act of generosity.

“Jennifer joined our team on March 8, and we felt that she became a part of our family at that point,’’ Reader said. “We felt we had been blessed with this incredible happening, and we wanted her to be a part of it and be able to feel what we were feeling.’’

On Friday, Reader went around collecting $20 from each worker for the tickets for a Powerball jackpot that reached $338 million by Saturday night’s drawing. Maldonado, who was laid off from her previous job and has a 4-year-old son with autism, had not yet received her first paycheck on her new job, so she opted to save her money. Reader and others offered to chip in to pay for Maldonado's ticket, but she declined.

On Saturday, it turned out that one of the tickets purchased by the pool was a $1 million winner with  five matching numbers. Had the ticket also included the red Powerball number, the group would have hit the big jackpot of $338 million.

When Maldonado came into the office on Sunday to a delirious celebration, she initally thought her coworkers were playing a prank on the new girl because she was the only one who hadn't chipped in money. But soon she realized they really become one of 13 $1 million winners nationwide. (A New Jersey man hit all six numbers to claim the $338 million prize.)

“I think anyone probably would’ve kicked themselves because it’s always a great feeling to win something, whether it be the lotto or something else,’’ Maldonado said on TODAY. “I was shocked and I definitely had a moment of regret, but it disappeared right away because I was overwhelmed with happiness for my entire group.”

It didn’t take long for the group to decide that it would share some of the winnings with Maldonado.

“I think within 30 seconds to 60 seconds, every single one of these people chimed in with, ‘I’m in, I’m in, I’m in,’’’ Reader told TODAY’s Kerry Sanders.

"They're such great people,'' Maldonado told Sanders. "I wouldn't put them past doing something so phenomenal and so gracious, honestly.'' 

Her co-workers each stand to receive $83,333 after taxes, according to Reader. They would not disclose exactly how much they are giving Maldonado, only saying that it’s more than $5,000.

Matt Lauer asked Reader how much less each of the co-workers would be collecting in order to give Maldonado her share.

“Matt, even though we love you, I’m not that great at math,’’ Reader joked. “It’s a big fat check.’’

In a TODAY.com survey asking whether readers in similar circumstances would share lottery pool winnings with a co-worker, 41 percent said "no, you have to be in it to win it," and another 41 percent chose "it depends on the circumstances." Only 18 percent of respondents said "yes, it’s the right thing to do."

“We are hoping that the 18 percent shifts more to about 80 percent when they see how good it feels to give and to include someone, and the small gift that you can do for another, it changes everything,’’ Reader said.

“I honestly believe that my group and I are getting more joy than Jennifer is getting just by including her.’’

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