Illegal Office Pools Raise The Stakes for Hoops Fans

It's that time of year again, baby! March Madness tips off on March 15, which means tens of thousands of otherwise diligent, hardworking and law-abiding Angenelos will forget about their jobs for a while to concentrate on the more exciting and possibly more profitable task of filling out the ubiquitous NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket.

Most office pools have relatively low entry fees, ranging from $5 to $25, but in some local offices, the stakes have become impressively high.

"I was in a pool last year with seven colleagues and friends where the entry fee was $5,000," one local investment banker said. "We each picked eight teams and it was a winner-take-all pot so someone not me walked away after the final game with forty grand in cash."

That investment banker, who will play in the same type of pool this year, said that office pool pots of five and six figures are not uncommon.

"A friend of mine told me about a pool in his office where the entry fee is 10 grand," he said. "I don't know who plays in it, but there are 16 spots, so the pot is a hundred and sixty grand."

These types of pools are clearly illegal in California, but Cesar Robaina, odds manager for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, said that law enforcement agencies generally ignore office pools because most are relatively small and the high-stakes ones are difficult to track.

More important, however, is the fact that no one, other than the winners, are profiting from the pools.

It's the bookie situation, where someone or some organization is illegally profiting from bets, that concerns law enforcement, Robaina said.

So why do CEOs, senior partners and managers tolerate illegal pools in their offices?

Well, many top executives participate in and sometimes organize the pools. Others turn a blind eye because they see how exciting March Madness pools are for their employees.

"It's is a really fun time of year to be at work because everyone is talking about the tournament and about how they're doing in the competition," said one local CEO, who asked to remain anonymous. "The pools may be illegal, but they're worth the risk, if there is one, when you see how much camaraderie and shared excitement employees get out of them."

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