Cops put damper on March Madness Calcutta pools

Mar 25, 2008 6:00 PM

by Ray Poirier | All they wanted to do was bet on the NCAA March Madness college basketball games.

Unlike the sports books in Las Vegas, bar operators in northern New York State, and probably in just about every city in the country, establish pools (or invite local bookmakers to stop by) to satisfy their customers’ need for game action.

That pretty much was the scene at Mulligan’s Pub & Eatery in Glens Falls, New York, last week. A number of local doctors, prominent real estate developers, and even members of the county board of supervisors showed up to participate in a high stakes "Calcutta pool auction."

Despite protests from the participants that since all the money being wagered was being returned to the winners, with no money extracted by the two men setting up the pools, thus making the activity legal, police didn’t agree. They released all the players, after getting their identifications, and booked the two owners of the bar and the two pool operators.

Before actually charging the men, the cops sought guidance from a higher authority.

"We confiscated the money (said to be in the thousands) and the laptop and research it today with the state Racing & Wagering Board," said one of the arresting officers. "It was their opinion that what was going on there was illegal."

Police explained that a Calcutta pool is an auction-style pool in which teams participating in the NCAA basketball tournament are auctioned to pool participants, with favorites going for higher prices than underdogs. Participants are paid based on how far the teams they "buy" go in the tournament.

The owners of the Mulligan’s, who vehemently insisted that they had done nothing wrong, said they had just rented their place to the two men who set up the gambling. Still, police arrested them and the organizers, on charges of violating the state’s gambling laws.

The police raid came as a major surprise to everyone involved, according to observers, who said that Calcutta pools had been a major March Madness attraction in town for at least the last 15 years.