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On March, Madness and Money

There he sits on the morning after the final NCAA championship game: bent over his desk with head in hands and thinking about all he has lost.

No, he is not the guy who lost the office basketball pool to his better-betting and luckier colleagues. He is their boss. And most likely, unless the office pool got really out of hand (and we will talk more about that in a moment), he is the biggest loser of the lot.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times estimated that during the course of March Madness, employers would pay out $175 million in wages to workers who were spending a good deal of their time, well, not working. After all, everybody had important basketball business to attend to:

  • Streaming games via their office Internet connections
  • Taking long lunches to argue about the odds
  • Checking scores
  • Managing the complexities of the March Madness office pool — a tradition more traditional in the American workplace than Christmas cookie bakeoffs and Bring Your Kid to Work Day

A survey by MSN said 86 percent of employees would spend at least some time at work focused on the action, with more than half devoting at least an hour to the Madness on each of the first two days.

Still, the most staggering statistic is that when you multiply all those fun little office wagers by the magnitude of the entire national labor force — and add it to all the betting action drummed up by the, shall we say self-employed — it is estimated that the event generates $2.5 billion (yes, with a B) in illegal bets per year. (If you don’t believe that, consider that this estimate was provided by the FBI.)

Fortunately for Ohio residents, office pools are permitted in the state so long as they follow one golden rule: All the money wagered must be distributed to one or more of the participants in the pool, with no one taking a cut of the action for himself or herself. If your wagering whimsy morphs into a money-making enterprise, you will be in violation of Ohio gambling laws and subject to misdemeanor or even felony charges, depending on the circumstances. (A skilled lawyer will come in really handy at that moment.) But keep things not-for-profit and you will be as safe as a church lady waving a Bingo card.

Except, maybe, if the boss catches you enjoying March Madness one time too many.

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