How To Run Your March Madness Pool Without Getting Into Trouble
During the 2014 NCAA tournament, Warren Buffett’s firm Berkshire Hathaway and Quicken Loans are offering $1 billion to anyone who comes up with the perfect March Madness brackets. If you think your chances are great, you’re wrong — you have a 9.2-quintillion-to-1 chance of filling out a perfect March Madness bracket.
Since you’re not going to be winning $1 billion — let’s be realistic — then you have a couple of options. Betting on the NCAA tournament can be something you do on your own. If you’re betting for yourself, then check out these sports betting sites reviews before placing your bet. If you want to play with others, then start an office pool. Following these six tips will ensure that your office pool stays fun while keeping you from getting thrown out of the game.
Check the Employee Handbook
It’s amazing to win $500 and legend status in the office pool. Losing your job, though? Not so amazing. Check your employee handbook or talk to someone in HR before kicking off your bets. If you can’t take bets on company property — which may also include taking bets inside of company vehicles — then keep everything out of the workplace.
Understand the Legal Issues
Only four states currently allow sports betting: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. Prosecutions for office pools are virtually nonexistent, but you could be charged for a misdemeanor that would be accompanied by a fine and possibly by jail time if you don’t have a good criminal lawyer. Also, your location isn’t the only legality to consider. Before accepting a bet from Brad the intern, make sure he’s actually 21 years old.
No Cuts for the Commissioner
Some commissioners take a percentage of each placed bet as a kickback for organizing the pool. Others keep a cut of each bet to fund items like pizza and beer, and still others charge an “entry fee” to every entrant. Either way, skimming off of the top is a no-go. Why is this important? Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your state have a “social gambling” exception? About 20 states offer legal exceptions for social gambling, which means no one can make money off of the pool except by winning a bet. If you’re taking a kickback as the commissioner, then you’re not engaging in social gambling.
- Are you willing to risk a felony conviction? A little office pool could give you a misdemeanor conviction, but any semblance of bookmaking takes you into felony territory. That’s a good reason not to let Dave from Accounting bring his cousin into the office pool. It looks a lot less like a casual office pool and a whole lot like a bookmaking venture.
Never Put It Online
Putting your brackets or results online and keeping the money in an online account may seem like the transparent and honorable thing to do. However, what’s online becomes visible to everyone, and it’s out there forever. If law enforcement, the IRS or your boss finds evidence of your office pool, then you could find yourself in major foul trouble. The same goes for online March Madness money accounts. PayPal shuts down March Madness accounts when it finds them because the accounts violate the company’s terms and conditions.
Report Your Winnings to the IRS
You’d report your gambling winnings in Vegas on your tax return, and you have to report your office pool winnings, too. If you win $1,200 or more, then you have to report the winnings on Form W2-G. Your chances of getting caught if you don’t report your winnings vary according to how auditable your income tax return may be, so your best bet is to keep the bets small. Essentially, they should be big enough to be interesting, but not big enough to attract attention. A good rule of thumb is to keep bets between $20 and $50.
You may not have a chance at Buffett’s billion, but you could win both cash and eternal glory if you pick the right brackets for your office pool. Just take some common-sense precautions to keep things on the level, and your March Madness office pool could become an annual tradition.
College basketball image by JMR_Photography from Flickr’s Creative Commons