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mar20homespunweb.jpgBy Gary T. Pakulski

RISMEDIA, March 20, 2008-(MCT)-Despite studies showing that wagering on March Madness disrupts workplace productivity, there are few signs that employers have acted to foul out the annual tradition.

“It’s really opening up,” said Ryan Trotter, founder of Tourneytime.com LLC, an online service used by workers at offices and plants to organize betting pools for the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament.

In the past, employer-installed Internet filters often blocked pool participants from accessing the service at work, said Trotter, of suburban Davenport, Iowa. But that is less of a problem today, he added.

Sales at Tourneytime — pool sponsors pay $20 for up to 50 participants — are up 30 to 40% this year, he added. That compares to usual increases of 20 to 30% annually.

Mike Hart, owner of Maumee marketing firm Hart Associates, has no complaint about the wagering pool organized by his employees.

“I’m supportive of a fun-loving work environment,” he said. “We come to work to work. But it’s OK to let our hair down. As long as it doesn’t take a lot of time, it’s healthy.”

Hart admitted he pays the $5 fee to enter the contest, but said he has never been in the money.

The two-week tournament opens this week. Individual match-ups were announced Sunday.

U.S. firms could experience more than $1.7 billion in lost productivity, estimates consultant Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which finds jobs for laid-off executives.

The consultant arrived at the estimate by multiplying the average wage of America’s 37.3 million workers by the amount of time the typical worker will spend filling out “brackets” and monitoring games.

“Those who insist there will be no fallout are kidding themselves,” John Challenger, chief executive, said in a written statement. “It might be a slight drop in output or it could be slow Internet connection as bandwidth is sapped by employees watching streaming feeds of the games.”

One Internet site where fans can watch games includes a “boss button” that quickly brings up a fake spreadsheet when pressed, the consultant noted.

Forty-eight percent of employees surveyed by Vault.com, Inc., a career site, said they will participate in an NCAA pool at work this year. Among office pools, the basketball tournament is the second most popular, behind the Super Bowl and ahead of NFL regular-season games, delivery dates of expectant co-workers, Oscar winners, and the outcome of reality shows such as American Idol and Survivor.

Matt Schroder, public relations director, organizes the pool at Hart Associates.

“It has the potential to disrupt productivity,” he said. “It would be naive to think it couldn’t. But it’s pretty highly concentrated on a day or two. People get their picks and its goes away. It’s not long term. … ”

Copyright © 2008, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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