Powerball Lottery: Benefits and Drawbacks of Office Pools

PHOTO: Ali Tsedev sells Powerball lottery tickets at a convenience store in Washington, Jan. 7, 2016.PlaySaul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
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Want to join the office pool to increase your chances of winning the historic $1.5 billion Powerball? Be careful -- a win can draw people closer together -- or land them in court.

Past Cases Of Pooling Wins

There have been examples in the past of both situations. A group from a real estate company in Florida won $1 million in 2013. They not only split the winnings among the 12 employees who chipped in $20 for the pool, but they also gave a cut to an employee who had started just two weeks prior and hadn't contributed.

"The fact that we got to share in an experience that most never have in a lifetime -- winning a Powerball -- we grew closer," said Laurie Finkelstein Reader, who works at that real estate office.

While that situation worked out fine, there have been less positive examples. There was a situation in California in 2005 when a group of colleagues from Kaiser Permanente were sued by four of their fellow employees who said that they had oral agreements to get in on the winning lotto pool. According to a recent Orange County Register interview with the winners, the suits were dismissed.

"You can't believe people you worked with would do that," Brenda Heller, one of the "Lucky 7" who split the winnings and ended up with more than $20 million after taxes, told the paper.

How To Protect Your Group

Such situations require written agreements before the winning numbers are drawn, Tracey Cohen, interim executive director of DC Lottery, told ABC News.

"If that pool wins, you're going to want to keep your tickets safe and obviously it's a legal issue," she said.

Cohen urged pool organizers to make copies of the tickets for everyone in the group, write down a list of all involved and have one point person to sign the tickets when the winnings are collected.

Keep Track Of Claiming Periods

She also said that it is important to keep the claiming period in mind: the length of time that winners have to claim their ticket varies by state, and depends on the state where you bought the ticket and not necessarily the state where you live.

Cohen said that in the District of Columbia, the claiming period is 180 days from the drawing. Most states have similar or slightly longer drawing periods.

What Are Your Chances Of Winning?

According to Powerball organizers, anyone who buys a single ticket has a 1 in 292 million chance of winning.

"I think Powerball capitalizes on the fact that that number is very hard to comprehend," Jeffrey Miecznikowski, an associated professor in the University of Buffalo's Department of Biostatistics, told ABC News.

"The probability or the odds of winning the lottery are the equivalent of flipping a coin 28 times and getting heads every time for those 28 flips. And that doesn't sound too bad -- 28 is much smaller than 292 million -- so it gives you an idea of how rare getting a head 28 times in a row is," he said.

Miecznikowski did note, however, that getting a winning Powerball ticket is 500 times easier than filling out a winning NCAA March Madness bracket, so not all hope is lost.

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