- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

For the millions of basketball fans sweating over their picks while filling out NCAA brackets in the coming days, there's one pretty safe bet: As long as the office pool is an informal contest among friends and co-workers, law-enforcement officials aren't interested in cracking down on the estimated $2.4 billion illegally wagered nationwide on the tournament.
"We all know they're everywhere. It's one of those things that someone who never bets puts a dollar in," said David Vice, commander of the organized crime and narcotics division of the Fairfax Police Department. "In reality, the way it works with us is, we target higher crimes."
He said that the commonwealth's attorney has ruled that such acts aren't a violation of law. Instead of looking at instances like those, officers use events such as the NCAA tournament and the Super Bowl as a "springboard" to pay closer attention to high-dollar operations that rake in larger loads of money during those times.
Last year, Capt. Vice and his colleagues broke up a gambling ring that used the Internet to put $20,000 to $30,000 up for grabs for winners during the professional football season.
Lucille Bauer, public information officer for the Montgomery County Police Department, said pool participants should know that all gambling is illegal in Maryland. Still, officers would decide to punish a party on a "case-to-case basis," depending on the quantity of possible winnings and potentially ill effects on those involved with the gambler.
"Someone who's not paying rent because of the gambling is a concern," she said. "Typically, someone who throws a dollar in is not going to generate a complaint."
The Society for Human Resource Management, in a 1999 survey of 2,300 randomly selected members of the organization, showed that pools for the college basketball tournament occurred at 30 percent of respondents' organizations. Fifty-six percent said the betting had no effect on worker productivity, and 63 percent said they had no policies against gambling on events such as Super Bowl or NCAA pools.
However, San Diego-based high-tech firm Websense Inc. said with workers spending time on analyzing their picks and chatting about the games, the NCAA tournament costs $504 million in productivity drain nationwide.
At the several Clyde's restaurants in the area, mangers won't start up a pool or approve of employees' doing so, but they're pretty sure some patrons or workers can sneak in some betting, said Maureen Hirsch, the chain's marketing director.
"We don't support gambling in any sense of the word, but we know there are some friendly side bets going on," she said.
If area police decided to crack down on an office pool, there would be some precedents from around the country.
Two years ago, police in Hartland, Wis., broke up a pool in which about 20 students each paid $5 to try to pick the winner of the NCAA tournament.
When a teacher found out that the eighth-graders were playing for more than $100 and turned them in, one student countered that teachers at the school had their own March Madness pool. The school principal said she found no evidence of gambling.
In January 2002, a Staten Island, N.Y., man running an AT&T; office pool was arrested because he planned to keep 10 percent of the proceeds from the pool. A co-worker, angry that the man's cut would amount to about $3,000, tipped off law-enforcement agents.

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