Hopped up on hoops and planning to get rich on the upcoming college basketball championship?

You may want to think again.

Employment specialists warn that as office pools get more lucrative, federal investigators begin to take notice.

Career information specialists Vault.com estimated that 57 percent of workers participate in "March Madness" office pools. The Society of Human Resource Management estimated that 30 percent of supervisors are aware that their workers are gambling in the office during the tourney.

Fisher & Phillips LLP, a Southern California employment and labor firm, estimates that U.S. firms lose $94 million in productivity each day, or $1.5 billion over 15 days.

"Throwing $10 or $20 into a pool is more for fun than anything else, but the law doesn't make a distinction between low-wage basketball pool betting and wagering thousands of dollars on a football game, which everyone knows is inappropriate," said Jeffrey Thurrell, a partner with Fisher & Phillips.

Thurrell said that most people forget they're gambling illegally, amid all the fun and games. Organizations can be fined, and participants can even receive jail time under the California Penal Code and the Professional and Amateur Sports Act. Pro sports betting circles have resulted in such penalties, but sanctions resulting from betting on college basketball are rare. But as pools get bigger and more competitive every year, the risk gets higher. Federal investigators could take note if the payoff reaches $1,000 and higher, not impossible at a large company, Thurrell said.

"If I were a small business owner, I don't know if I'd be the person who'd fire employees. But what I'd want to do is make sure I'm not sponsoring an event with a cash prize at the end, especially if there's any kind of buy-in," he said.

Thurrell said there are steps employers can take to protect themselves. First and foremost, do not participate in the pool and try to keep all other management personnel from participating. Also, show that you do not condone gambling on office grounds. For instance, insert a section in the employee handbook stating that gambling isn't allowed on the premises.

"That way you have it on paper and you can say, 'we didn't step in, but the employee should have known that we didn't allow this.'"

Firehouse, Workplace

Geragos & Geragos PC and Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP have moved their offices into an old firehouse in downtown L.A.'s financial district.

The new office, which once housed L.A. Engine Company No. 28, is a 3,000-square-foot building at 644 S. Figueroa Street that was completed in 1912. It's also home to a restaurant named after the engine company. Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck purchased the building to facilitate the move.

"The fire station represents downtown Los Angeles' rich history," said Kabateck. "Firefighters who lived and worked in the building saved lives, homes and businesses for six decades. It's an honor to work where these heroes once lived."

The powerhouse plaintiffs' firms frequently work together, and have jointly handled several cases seeking reparations for Armenian genocide. Kabateck is known primarily for his work in pharmaceutical cases, particularly Vioxx litigation. Geragos has had a long and storied career, having represented controversial figures like Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson.

These attorneys are only the most recent migrants to downtown from the Westside or the Valley.

"Just a few years ago, downtown was mostly home to large corporate law firms," said Geragos. "Now, criminal defense lawyers and plaintiffs' lawyers are clamoring to move into the heart of Los Angeles. We plan to spend the rest of our careers in this beautiful building."

The fire station answered calls until 1969 and was designated as a landmark in 1979. A renovation was completed in 1989.

Around Town

Thomas M. Moore and Ronald Labriola have left Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP to start their own firm, Moore Labriola LLP. The attorneys will focus on representing plaintiffs in complex litigation, mass torts and consumer fraud cases. Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP hired Matthew Sloan, a former U.S. Attorney in the major frauds section, as an Of Counsel. Drier Stein & Kahan LLP nabbed John C. Kirkland as a partner in its corporate and securities department. He was previously with Greenberg Traurig LLP.

Staff reporter Emily Bryson York can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 235, or at eyork@labusinessjournal.com .

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