You might want to think twice before handing in that filled-out NCAA tournament sheet to the office pool coordinator/bracket bookie.

No, not because you penciled in the Rattlers of Florida A&M University to upset No. 1-seeded Kentucky, or because you claim Patrick Henry made you say "Give me Liberty" as a Cinderella team or even because you picked BYU and Utah to meet in the national championship game on April 5.

The real reason: You might be violating State Code 76-10-1101, non-numerically known as gambling. Your innocent-seeming activity is a no-no in Utah, according to assistant attorney general Tom Roberts, if three elements are met:

1. It's done among people who have given or agree to give something of value to participate (money, the shirt off your back, farms, whatever).

2. An element of luck is involved (something certainly needed when choosing teams based on uniform colors, mascot nicknames or college locations).

3. Something of value can be won (cash or first-born children, say, but not non-monetary prizes such as pride).

In other words, beware if you have to pay to play.

You probably won't end up in the slammer for slapping down five bucks to select the Salukis of Southern Illinois to knock off Monmouth in the finals, but it is a crime — a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But authorities struggle when investigating gambling because participants usually don't consider themselves victims, Roberts said, and "victims" who lose to the secretary who made her picks through an eenie-meenie-minie-moe process generally don't call police. Plus, most players consider office-pool gambling as innocent as a little white lie.

Still, Roberts offered some free advice: "Place your bets where it's legal."

And not with our brackets, adds the NCAA. The collegiate sports governing body put a disclaimer on the official bracket: "The NCAA opposes all sports wagering. This bracket should not be used for sweepstakes, contests, office pools or other gambling activities."

Even the free-for-alls can come at a cost. A recent study revealed that the bracket brouhaha transforms employees into a bunch of Dilberts. According to study authors Challenger, Gray & Christmas, about 40 million workers spend an estimated 10 minutes a day chit-chatting about the 65-team tournament.

Bottom line: The basketball banter costs businesses more than $1.5 billion in lost productivity.

Many businesses ban wagering at the workplace, but most let it slide, according to Society of Human Resource Management surveys. Unfortunately for Rick Neuheisel, the University of Washington wasn't among that group — the football coach was canned for bracket betting.

On the other extreme, Mr. Mac's management actually sponsors a free employee contest — the winner gets two suppers for the price of none.

"It's as good as a bonus if you win," said salesman Kent Brown.

Mr. Mac's employees say they spent between 30 seconds and a half-hour to complete their entries. Brown figures he's at least ahead of a co-worker who picked both local universities to make it to the Sweet 16.

"I'm giving BYU and Utah the benefit of the doubt," said salesman Jeremy Christensen. "They're my teams."

BYU sportswriter Kyle Cottam participates in an Honor Code-worthy version at the Daily Universe — for recreational purposes only, of course. The only reward: "Bragging rights in Sports."

He has the Y. losing to Syracuse this afternoon on his sheet, although he said "people prayed down here on campus a lot so we'll see if those prayers are answered or not." (Don't spread the word around Provo, but he has more faith that Utah's will be answered against Boston College.)

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But one former Newsnet student, who wished to remain anonymous because the statute of limitations hasn't expired yet, admitted her group of writers played for cold hard cash when she attended BYU. They just kept the taboo tradition on the hush-hush.

"It's the nation's dirty little secret," she said.

A "little white law," you might say, that many love breaking in a moment of March Madness.


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