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The staff at Arrowhead Advertising in Peoria got a break from their work Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours from the tip-off of Thursday's March Madness college basketball games.
"OK, does everyone have their bracket?" asked owner Kyle Eng of his assembled staff.
Sixty-five employees with nothing to lose all handed over their completed bracket predictions of how the NCAA tournament games will play out.
The employees are competing among each other for prizes being offered up by Eng, including an extra day of vacation, a round-trip ticket on Southwest Airlines and $200 in cash.
"Just a fun way for me to give back as the owner to say lets have some fun and a friendly competition," said Eng.
I'ts fair to say that for a good number of the employees, this is their first exposure to the competition surrounding college basketball's springtime rite of passage.
"This is completely new to me," says employee Jesse Sparks. "I had to learn what a bracket was."
"I look at really important factors like the color of their uniform and their mascot," says employee Catherine Reynolds with a laugh.
This office could be considered among the few where no cash is being bet on the tournament. Estimates from gaming industry experts indicate as much as $10 billion is gambled during March Madness, more than on the Super Bowl.
"No matter who you are or where you work, everyone really seems to get caught up in March Madness," says director of the Arizona Department of Gaming Mark Brnovich. "We wanna make sure people are doing things on the straight and narrow and not doing things that run afoul of the law."
Deciphering which office pool is legal and which one is not actually isn't that difficult.
"The key always, is someone directly or indirectly benefiting from the gambling," says Brnovich.
In practice, that would mean if everyone in your office put $5 into a pool and the winner collected all the money, then that would be legal.
However, if the organizer of the pool took a percentage from the bets, or charged you a certain amount to participate, that person would, under the law, be getting a benefit and subject to prosecution.
"If somebody is getting that cut, we want to make sure they know it's illegal, and if someone calls and wants to talk with us about it, we would follow up and investigate that," says Brnovich.
Eng and others in his office had no clue what constituted illegal gambling when it comes to office pools. He was not taking any chances, though, of running afoul of the law, and that's one reason he keeps employees cash out of it. But another is that he considers it a perk for his staff, and he gets full participation by not charging anyone.
"The last thing I need is someone banging on the door asking if we paid taxes on that winning or who's collecting it and all that kind of stuff," says Eng.
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