By Eugene Kane Senior Writer and Columnist Published Mar 11, 2013 at 1:05 PM Photography:

March Madness is about to begin, so you know what that means.
Shhhhh ... time to get ready for the office pool.

It's the time of year when where you went to college doesn't really matter as much as which school you're rooting for to win in the NCAA brackets sheet that will start floating around in about a week when the major college basketball championships begin.

You may know it as "The Big Dance" or  "Road to the Final Four."

For many sports fans, it's one of the most exciting sporting events on the annual schedule, particularly due to the compressed nature of the competition with so many games in such a rapid span. During March Madness, it's "one and done", which means one loss eliminates the team so winning is the ultimate satisfaction.

That usually makes for a pretty exciting event. Almost as exciting as gambling.

Every year, officers workers in cities like Milwaukee participate in an illegal gambling enterprise that most assume is winked at by official law enforcement. After all, the office NCAA bracket pool usually isn't done in secret, although many businesses are still skittish about gambling so you probably won't see the names of participants posed in an official place.
I've played in office pools during most of my adult working experience and even won a few times. It was never about the money (literally) but I knew of lottery pools from friends at other companies who talked of winning pots that went into the thousands of dollars.

That's the thing about estimating how much money is involved in gambling. Winners will often brag how much they won; losers, not so much.

Kent Lovern of the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office  told me his office knows all about March Madness office pools but but didn't plan to start any widespread investigation of criminal activity that nobody has been charged with in recent years.

"It's technically a violation of the law but I'm not aware it's been prosecuted on the local level for quite some time," said Lovern, who is the deputy district attorney.

Lovern said the district attorney's office did look into gambling that was linked to organized crime, but college basketball games in the office pool didn't qualify.

In many office pools, the 'gamblers' pay an entry fee that pays off in various rewards depending how far the team advances. In some offices, the people playing can be anybody from are everyone from the person who signs checks to the person who sorts out the mail.

In Milwaukee, my experience is that most office pools reflect the allegiance to the  local college teams where most employees graduated, attended or have friends and family with connections. That makes Marquette and UW-Madison as usual gambling favorites, which most years usually ends up favoring one school over the others.

I've learned it's good to go against Marquette and UW as a betting strategy; if you can knock out as many of your colleagues as early as possible, the pot might just be yours. But being loyal to your school can work to your disadvantage; most years I'm picking the my alma mater, the Temple University Owls, which is a strategy that has yet to pay off.

These days, many office pools are played on the Internet instead of in-house, which reduces the collegial sense between co-workers  I always like about March Madness. But everyone doesn't see it the same way.

 Some people remain troubled about any form of illegal gambling even if like in this case, it's just one of numerous laws – like speeding for example – that people break all the time. As long as pools stay reasonable small and nobody squeals, I guess you're safe from the long arm of the law.

The office pool, particularly around March Madness time,  seems to have survived for now, at least. 

Eugene Kane Senior Writer and Columnist

Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.

Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.