Mar 15, 2012, 11:40 AM EDT
And so we come to our yearly moral dilemma which really isn’t a dilemma at all: should organizing an NCAA Basketball Tournament pool really be considered illegal gambling? And if everyone does it: from the folks in your office pool to the President of the United States (“Biden! Where’s your picks?”), should we be punishing kids for getting in on the fun? Don’t ask Omaha fifth-grader Max Kohll, who was just busted by his school principal for organizing an NCAA pool for his classmates. Or in other words, for being a typical American.
The entry fee was $5, with the loot probably kept in the pages of a math textbook (someplace no one would ever search). Things were going smoothly until someone narced. A disgruntled 11-year-old who had Cal going to the Final Four? No one’s sure, but suddenly Max found himself headed to the principal’s office. Omaha World-Herald:
It turns out that Principal Kathy Nelson, using interrogative powers that Max has not deciphered, somehow figured out that Max had brackets and $10 hidden in his locker.
It turns out that “you can’t gamble in school,” Max says. “It’s not OK to gamble. It’s like, illegal, sort of.”
Max got off light, he thinks — Principal Nelson let him off with a stern talking-to and a promise never to do it again. Later, she came to his classroom and lectured his class.
Principal Nelson also picked up the phone and dialed Janet Kohll, a stay-at-home mom of five children who has gotten her share of principal phone calls.
Oh, no, what did he do? Kohll asked.
The principal told her.
Then Kohll admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that she knew Max had organized an NCAA tournament pool.
In fact, Max’s mom had loaned him the five bucks for his own entry fee. So with his fifth-grade pool shut down by Principal Elliot Ness and the Untouchables, Max just took the action home, where his mom, dad, older sister and two younger brothers formed their own NCAA pool.
Which brings us to this: isn’t it time we decriminalized the NCAA office pool? The FBI estimates that over $2.5 billion is gambled on the NCAA tournament each year, with only $80 million of that bet legally through Nevada sports books. The fact that the FBI knows there’s $2.4 billion out there in $5- and $10-dollar office pool bets is at once amusing and disconcerting: shouldn’t the police be focused on trying to find the guy who stole my Toyota Camry? Each year we read about someone or other getting busted for running an NCAA office pool. This year it was 11-year-old Max; in 2003 it was Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, who was found by the university participating in off-campus NCAA tournament pools, and fired for cause (although there were underlying reasons there). And often we read about some Elks Club seniors who are busted by police for their NCAA pools, their brackets confiscated as their wheelchairs are rolled into police vans.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Lisa M. Boscola, for one, has had enough. Boscola introduced legislation on Tuesday that would legalize small sports betting pools in which the entry fee is $20 or less.
“Most Pennsylvanians have either played one of these friendly pools at some point or know someone who has played them,” Boscola said in her well-timed statement. “These pools are fun, spirited and harmless ways to test one’s knowledge and luck at sports.
Boscola’s bill would make office pools legal if they meet the following criteria:
- The entry amount is $20 or less.
- There are no more than 100 participants.
- There is an established social, professional or familial relationship between contestants.
- All pool proceeds are awarded to the contestants or donated to a charity.
Boscola said her proposal is modeled after a Vermont law and a similar bill pending in Michigan.
She said she decided to introduce the legislation after learning liquor enforcement officers had cited a constituent tavern owner for a Super Bowl block pool.
That citation is different from the criminal penalities someone could face if convicted of bookmaking, the charge that would apply in the case of a betting pool, the senator’s office said.
That first-degree misdmeanor carries a sentence of 2 1/5 to 5 years in prison and a maxiumum fine of $10,000.
Or, in some cases, your keister gets hauled to the principal’s office.
It’s my opinion that the NCAA basketball pool helps keep America strong. It brings us together, encourages workplace camaraderie and separates us from the lesser nations which have no office pools. Schools, I think, should encourage bracketology — and in fact some schools do.
But not in Nebraska, it appears. Of course if young Max had retained me as his attorney, his defense would have been simple. “As you can see,” I would have said to the principal, “Max chose North Carolina to win it all. And as you know, pinning your hopes on Roy Williams is not considered gambling. It’s a charitable donation.”
It’s time the government realized that, just as with Prohibition, it’s impossible to legislate morality when the subject is something the people really want. Or in other words, the day they go in and shut down President Obama’s White House pool, then I’ll shut down mine. That is, er, if I had an NCAA pool. You can’t prove a thing!
Rick’s Cafe Americain appears on Thursday. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com. Twitter: @Rickchand.
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