"When I first came to this office, one of the men said, ‘You don’t have the brains to do this, but give it a try anyway,’ ” recalls a 24-year-old sales secretary at Moore Business Forms Ltd., in Toronto. No slur on her professional skills, the comment invited her to join in the office football pool and cast her dollar to the wind along with about 30 coworkers who pick the NFL’s finest each week for a chance at a $25 pot. The secretary’s first try made her a winner and she has been hooked ever since, though she admits she can’t tell one end zone from the other. “It really bugged the men when I won,” she exults. “I mean, there are guys here who spend a lot of time thinking about point spreads and injury lists and stuff. I just bet for teams like San Francisco because I always wanted to go there, or Dallas because I like J.R.’s style.”
Despite the fact that organizing or participating in an office football pool is an indictable criminal offence, untold thousands of deskbound Canadians will be busy filling out their final pool cards as the season draws to a close in Detroit on Jan. 24. “People don’t consider the illegality of pools,” says Igor Kusyszn, a psychology professor at Atkinson College who conducts seminars on the finer points of gambling under the pseudonym Lance Humble. Besides, he adds, gambling is the great equalizer, transcending status, wealth and education. Thus the lowly office boy can rise above his station and beat middle management types (the top brass seldom play, according to Kusyszn, because they don’t want to gamble on losing). Women, meanwhile, have an opportunity to dominate male colleagues. Unlike lotteries, playing the pool offers beatable odds and a chance for office camaraderie. Says Kusyszn: “People are getting tremendous existential value for their money.”
It is estimated that in such cities as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, more than $3 million in “existential value” rides on NFL games every weekend with millions more expected to change hands over the Super Bowl. But according to Toronto Staff Sgt. Roy Bassett, heavy bookmakers interest police far more than the $25 office gamblers. “Pools don’t have a big effect,” says Bassett. “A buck here or there is no big deal.”
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