Update: Duke won their game and my kids won the pool. I am not sure what their current plans are for the windfall.
My kids–12, 10, and eight– know about as much about March Madness as I know about Indonesian badminton, yet their NCAA men’s basketball bracket is one game away from winning –for them–an astronomical sum of $450. When I paid their $10 entry fee and made their selections just five minutes before the start of the tournament last week, I hoped the opportunity to win some money might entice them to put down the Xbox controller and sign off of Facebook long enough to watch a few games with their dad.
I never thought they had a serious chance to beat 51 other people and win the pool outright. … On a level playing field in which everyone knows an equal amount about basketball, the chances my kids would win was less than 2 percent. But when I made their selections for them, I had almost nothing to go on because I hadn’t seen a single college basketball game all year. That left their chances of winning it all about the same as Conan O’Brien’s chances of getting the Tonight Show back.
But now with 61 games complete and only 3 to go in this year’s NCAA Men’s tournament, all my kids need to win an amount that is 100 times larger than their $5 weekly allowance is for Duke to beat West Virginia this Saturday night in Indianapolis. The Vegas oddsmakers have Duke a two-and-a-half-point favorite to win.
The game has suddenly changed for them.
Though my kids can’t name a single player on either team, I know they will be riveted to the television from tip-off to the final buzzer. They are already making plans to spend their winnings on a gecko, perhaps an iTouch or maybe they’ll just save it. This also raises the possibility of tears being shed should a Duke loss ruin their Christmas in April.
As the fun builds, I began wondering if letting them get a taste of the adult world of gambling could ultimately backfire. Gambling and betting on sports is a serious problem in America that affects an untold number of children directly and indirectly. Many Moms and Dads out there have bet the family nest egg to feed their addiction or spend way too much time watching players on television rather than playing with their own children. And the Federal Trade Commission put out a report a number of years ago that kids spending more and more hours online and are finding their way to adult gambling sites that lack safeguards to prevent kids from betting.
I know from personal experience that big money bets can leave a deep impression on a young sports fan. In 1977 when I was nine, my dad paid my way into his office pool in which about a dozen people each picked one team to win the Super Bowl. I got the first choice and instead of selecting my favorite team – the Oakland Raiders – I went with the New England Patriots. When the Raiders drove down the field late for the game-winning score against the Patriots, I wasn’t there to see it because I couldn’t take the pressure and ran out of the room. Sure enough, the Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl, costing me about $100. I never forgot it.
I also know that that filling out your brackets and making a small bet on the NCAA tournament is an American past time and all in good fun. And while I hope my kids hit the jackpot, I won’t be as disappointed as they will be should they lose and learn that when you gamble, you have to be prepared to lose.