Business & Economy

Powerball hits $1.5B; here's the right way to pool resources at the office

A Powerball ticket purchased in April 2013 in Cypress Park on the first day of the lottery's arrival in California.
A Powerball ticket purchased in April 2013 in Cypress Park on the first day of the lottery's arrival in California.
John Rabe/KPCC

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With the Powerball pot now topping $1.5 billion, surely most people trudging back into work on Monday morning had at least one thought of "Why not?" or "What's the harm?"

Even serious skeptics or statisticians daunted by 200-plus-million-to-1 odds have to admit the old lottery adage is true: you can't win if you don't play. For those folks and for the true believers and impossible dreamers, the office pool offers a chance to play the lottery on a team.

"I'm not a believer in the lottery. I think it's ridiculous. It seems like a big waste for people who don't understand math," says Tony Licon, who works for an advertising agency in Culver City. But there he was on twitter last week, going with the flow:

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He certainly wasn't alone in the Twitter-verse. Plenty of people had decided to take a dip into their office pool:

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In Licon's office, about 20 people kick in $10 each when one of his co-workers sends out an email. Licon says he does it for the social camaraderie.

"It feels more like an office party type of event," he says. "Everybody just starts talking about what they'd do, and it's like, 'I'm just gonna go on a desert island somewhere and buy a helicopter.'"

The co-worker goes to buy the tickets, photographs them with a smartphone and emails the images to all who contributed. "I don't think anybody takes it very seriously," says Licon.

But Santa Monica attorney Greene Browne says in the nearly impossible far-off chance they won, everybody would take it seriously. Maybe even some folks who weren't in on the pool.

"The lure of greed is all over the lottery," says Browne, who has represented people who've had winning lottery tickets stolen from them. "When the position changes, there’s now a billion dollars out there and you have your name in there – or you don’t. How many other people do you think won’t create — or attempt to create — an interest in that?"

Los Angeles attorney Farid Yaghoubtil agrees. "We have experience with situations where multiple parties get together to purchase tickets, then the winner fails to distribute the funds per their oral agreement," he says.

Both Yaghoubtil and Browne say the "oral" agreement simply isn't enough and between them offer these tips to office lottery pools:

"Those three things should protect you, and in the event that one of the parties fails to adhere to those guidelines, there will be legal ramifications," Yaghoubtil says.

"The less amount of evidence, the more fraught with peril this whole transaction is gonna be," says Greene Browne.