The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 24, 2013

Basketball tournament brings out fans, brackets

Though office pools illegal, law rarely enforced

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — Andrew Lance is a proud graduate of Kansas State University. His wife, Carrie, is a fan of the University of Kansas, and has a sister who attended the Lawrence school.

March can be a rough month for the couple.

“When we first got married, we didn’t fight about money,” Andrew Lance said. “We fought about Kansas and K-State. I haven’t gotten her to (K-State’s) Manhattan campus for a game yet, but she’s taken me to one at Allen Field House.”

Known and marketed as March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament draws fans of all sorts to televisions and leads people to fill out complicated brackets predicting every round’s winners.

Nathan Fent, a friend of the Lances, usually tries to catch every game of the tournament’s first rounds. The Oklahoma State University alumnus watched his team fall to Oregon in the second round.

This is the only time of year that Fent, a fan of underdogs, can bring himself to root for conference rivals.

“This is the only time I’ll cheer for OU or KU,” Fent said. “You want the conference to do well.”

Fent and Andrew Lance said they fill out brackets on websites such as ESPN.com. Andrew said he will sometimes pick against his beloved Wildcats — he projected Wisconsin to beat K-State this year.

“Even though they messed up my bracket, I’m rooting for Harvard,” Andrew Lance said. “And I actually picked Wisconsin to beat K-State in both of my brackets. That way, if the Wildcats lose, I can still root for a team in my bracket.”

Even if their favorite teams get ousted, all of the friends say they enjoy watching different teams progress.

“I like to watch because of the teams I never get the chance to see,” Carrie Lance said.



AGAINST THE RULES

The brackets the three friends fill out are found only online. Office pools are not allowed at their workplaces, they said.

For good reason: According to counsel with the Missouri Gaming Commission, such pools are considered illegal gambling.

“Those kind of office pools count as gambling, but they don’t fit the exceptions in state law,” said Ed Grewach with the commission.

Missouri law outlines three qualifications: consideration, chance and a prize. Because a pool takes common contributions, it has an outcome based on chance and awards a prize to the winner, such pools easily meet Missouri’s definition of gambling, Grewach said.

A spokesman for Attorney General Chris Koster said that there has never been an opinion written about the specific legality of office pools.

But enforcement is another issue. Office pools aren’t within the jurisdiction of the commission, Grewach said, which means local law enforcement departments would deal with related issues.

And those calls are few and far between.

Sloan Rowland with the Joplin Police Department said few reports are made about office pools. The FBI recently investigated a multijurisdictional gambling network that included the Joplin area. The investigation resulted in the indictments of three men.