The men’s NCAA basketball tournament, which began in 1939, has evolved into one of the biggest annual sporting events in America. Not coincidentally it’s also the source of gambling-fever with office pools rampant all across the country.

The FBI estimates that during the three-week tournament, $2.5 billion will be wagered. It’s also estimated that 58 million workers will spend part of each work day monitoring the results, costing $3.8 billion in lost productivity. (But of course great for TV and Internet ratings.)

This year, one of the world’s richest people, Warren Buffet, has created a $1 billion bracket. FYI, Bloomberg News says Buffet is the world’s second richest, passing Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim. (He has to be the richest guy named Slim.)

Yes, perhaps only in America, and totally free, could an online bracket make someone a billionaire, or almost. ($25 million a year for 40 years or a lump sum of $500 million.) As I find myself saying so often, “What a country.”

Buffet, 83, said he came up with the idea while talking sports with Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert in November. Gilbert also owns the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. When LeBron James left for Miami, Gilbert childishly predicted that the Cavs would win a world title before James did. (LeBron has won two rings since and this year the Cavs have won a grand total of 26 games. Oops.)

With Buffet on the hook for $1 billion, Quicken sponsored the national campaign. For Buffet it’s really no different from many of his other insurance transactions. “We own GEICO and insure 10 percent of all the cars in the United States. You evaluate the risk and you charge a premium of what you think is appropriate.” While Buffet won’t say, it’s estimated his “premium” in this case is $10 million.

Admittedly it’s unlikely, but I wonder if President Barack Obama, a huge basketball fan from childhood, submitted a Buffet Bracket. If so, then of course 5-foot-5-inch Vladimir Putin (and with obvious Napoleonic and testosterone issues), might have entered. And what if he won? First Crimea and now a Buffet billion?

Now that I think of it, maybe the NSA submitted a bracket. After all, they could easily have tapped the coaches’ phones.

But realistically, what are the chances someone could accurately pick all 67 games? An NPR report put the odds at one in 9.2 quintillion. (That’s a nine, followed by 18 zeroes.) As the broadcast stated, “Quintillion is not the kind of number we actually use on this planet. It’s more of a number that a couple of 10 year olds might invent during a sleepover.”

Of course, even if someone got all the games right, considering Buffet’s worth an estimated $63 billion, it wouldn’t exactly break him. I guess 9.2 quintillion to 1 that Buffet will wind up earning a cool $10 million for just being insanely wealthy. As the saying goes, “And the rich get richer.”

If you didn’t enter Buffet’s billion-dollar bracket contest don’t feel too bad, I didn’t enter either. Not that I didn’t try. When I logged onto Buffet’s bracket application my computer was suddenly taken to the Yahoo homepage. It turns out it wasn’t by coincidence.

While the details are sketchy, Yahoo’s in on the deal. To enter, one has to have a Yahoo account. It’s expected 10 million people will enter and I’m assuming many will be new Yahoo users. Ka-ching goes the cash register.

Also, on the application was a questionnaire to fill out to be eligible. And, naturally, it asks if you’d be interested in a new mortgage. Quicken swears they won’t sell the information to anyone. Yeah, right.

But, then again, I suppose for even the dream that one might win a billion dollars, maybe it’s a fair trade. It was just a little spooky to have my computer “taken” over by remote control to the Yahoo page.

Except it’s been so long since I’ve used my Yahoo account, I couldn’t remember my password. No problem, Yahoo said it would send a link to reset my password to my back-up e-mail account. Unfortunately, my backup e-mail account is so old it doesn’t exist anymore. (And I was too lazy to create another account.)

As each round of games is completed, the publicity for Buffet’s Bracket will likely be everywhere. (I should talk, I’m just adding to the mix.) This is, of course, how Quicken and Yahoo are able to pay Buffet his “premium.” For his part, Buffet, as always, seems to have a mirth to his methods.

“Just imagine the night of the championship game and there’s one person left with a perfect bracket,” Buffett said. “I’ll go to that game with him or her and I’ll have a check in my pocket. Though my guess is we’ll be rooting for different teams.”

 

 

Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or jnsmdp@aol.com.

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