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The Basics of Running an Office Pool

By Randy Ray in General
| September 30, 2015 12:00 am PDT
Office Pool

It’s fun to be a fan of sports. Really, it’s fun to be a fan of any kind of entertainment.

But what’s even more fun than just being a fan and rooting for a team is to put some money on the line. Nothing stimulates interest in a sporting event or an awards ceremony like having a little cash available to win.

The purpose of this post is to show you some of the different kinds of office pools you can set up. These don’t have to be restricted to your workplace, either. I’ve been a regular at many bars that set up betting pools.

In fact, betting pools have some distinct advantages over other kinds of sports betting. The main one is that you don’t have to pay any vigorish. That’s the 10% commission the book takes—it’s why you have to bet $110 to win $100, and it’s also why you have to win over 52% of the time just to break even.

One thing about office pools that’s always been true:

It’s almost always a fair bet.

Box Pools

One of the most popular and common types of betting pools in an office is a box pool. Whoever’s running the pool creates a 10 X 10 grid, and you pay to put your name into one of the 100 squares on that grid. After everyone has bought their squares, the numbers 0 through 9 are randomly assigned to the rows and to the columns.

In most of these pools, the score is checked at the end of each quarter. The last digit of each team’s score determines which squares win. 25% of the pool is paid out at the end of each quarter. Here’s what such a grid might look like:

3 4 7 2 5 6 8 1 0 9
0 Z Y X

If the score was 0 to 0 at the end of the first quarter, the square with the X in it would win 25% of the prize pool. Assuming that everyone paid $20 to play, there would be $2000 in the pot, so 25% would be $500.

If the score was still 0 to 0 at the end of the 2nd quarter, that same person would get another $500 in winnings.

If the score was 7 to 0 at the end of the 3rd quarter, the square with the Y in it would be the winner.

If the score was 14 to 0 at the end of the game, the square with the Z in it would be the winner.

This is a great office betting pool to set up, because it requires no skill at all to play. All you have to do is create the grid. Just remember to put the numbers on the grid AFTER the entrants have all chosen a square.

I used to do this with a big piece of poster board and let people write their own names down. No one was allowed to write their name down until they’d given me their money. Also, don’t forget to designate which team is represented by the numbers horizontally and which team is represented by the numbers vertically.

Survivor Pools

I’ve played in several survivor pools through the years. Unlike box pools, survivor pools reward skill. But at the same time, there’s at least one upset in the NFL every week.

Here’s how a survivor pool works:

Everyone buys in for a certain amount. Then each week, each participant picks a team that they think will win. They don’t have to take into account the point spread or anything like that, either.

If they’re right, they stay in the pool. But if they’re wrong, they’re eliminated.

The last man standing is the winner of the prize money.

Most survivor pools only allow you to pick a given team once per season. So, for example, if you picked the New England Patriots in week 1, you wouldn’t be allowed to take that team again for the rest of the season. In other pools, they make no restriction about that.

Either way, it’s a fun and exciting way to gamble on football. You’d be surprised at how quickly even the largest survivor pools get whittled down to just a few survivors, too.

Pickem Pools

These are similar to survivor pools, but instead of picking one winner each week, you make a prediction for every game. These contests usually just last a single week. They usually have rules related to breaking ties.

Here’s an example of how a pickem pool might work:

25 people work in your office. Each of them chips in $10 and picks a winner for each of the 16 games this week. The player who gets the most right is the winner. In some pickem pools, you also pick the total score for the Monday night game. Of course, there could be a tie. Whoever gets closest to the actual total for the Monday night game wins the tie. In fact, in contests like this, ties might be more likely than you think.

Reality TV Pools

Office pools aren’t limited to just sporting events. Anything you can bet on can become the source of an office pool. Examples of reality television shows that are perfect for office pools include the following:

  • American Idol
  • Survivor
  • Dancing with the Stars
  • The Amazing Race

The rules for these can vary dramatically. Here’s an example of how you might run an American Idol office pool:

Most reality TV show pools work on a point system. For example, you might get points for predicting who gets voted off each week. This is kept as a running tally until the end of the season. You would also get points for predicting who the eventual winner would be. The person with the most points at the end of the season wins the prize money.

In fact, most reality TV shows where they vote someone off each week would work with this kind of system. You don’t have to limit it to talent shows, either. My daughter, for example, loves Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef. She’d probably love the opportunity to win some money at the end of the season for correctly predicting who’s getting kicked off and who’s winning.

Election Day Pools

This is another easy one. A month or so before Election Day, create “ballots” for the upcoming elections. Award points for each election predicted correctly. It’s common to award more points for predicting who wins the Presidency.

For example, you might include options for the Congressmen and Senators from your state or from every state. Probably only political junkies would be interested in something that extensive, though.

Tally up the points at the end of the election and award the winner his points.

Dead Pools

This one’s in poor taste, but I have to admit, I have participated in one of these. The way we did it was to have a draft in December. We listed celebrities that we were predicting would die during the following year. You got 10 points for each one you got right, but you got bonus points based on how young they were when they died. (100 – their age). The older they were, the fewer points you got.

A friend of mine put Steve Irwin on his list the year he died. He racked up an impressive number of points for that one, as Irwin was only 44 years old. That made for a 66 point prediction by itself.

The number of people you want to allow the participants to include in their pool is up to you. Also, you can set up the rules any way you like. You don’t have to have a draft where a celebrity can only be on one participant’s list. You could allow everyone to have anyone they want on their list—that might even make it a more challenging contest.

Oscars Pool

I’m a movie buff, so the Academy Awards are my favorite betting pool. I never ran one of these in the office, but I usually hold an Oscars party where we watch the Awards together. One of the activities we do every year is print up ballots and make predictions.

It’s customary to vary the number of points each Award is worth based on how important it is. Here’s an example:

  • Best Picture and Best Director are worth 10 points each.
  • Best Actor and Best Actress are worth 7 points.
  • Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress are worth 5 points each.
  • Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay are worth 5 points each.

You can find printable ballots online to use for this purpose. We’ve done these contests in multiple ways in the past, too. One year we allowed everyone to take up to 2 choices for each Award. You could double down on one if you were really certain about it.

Here’s an example of how that works:

You pick two movies to win Best Picture. If either of them win, you get 5 points. If you double down and use both your predictions on a single movie, you get 10 points.

Managing Your Office Pool Online

You can find any number of sites these days which allow you to manage your office pool using their Internet functionality. Some of these are extremely basic and amateurish. Some of them are super slick. Many people like using these sites to administer the various tasks related to running such a pool. But be careful. Read the terms and conditions carefully. I’d shy away from sites which charge a fee or a percentage in exchange for their functionality.

Fantasy Sports

In a sense, fantasy sports—both the daily and the season-long versions—are the ultimate office pools. Most people are familiar with how they work, but if you’re not, you might consider setting up a league with your co-workers.

Each participant drafts a team of players for that sport. This is usually done online these days, but some leagues still hold in-person drafts. The draft order is determined randomly. In season-long leagues, each player becomes unavailable once someone drafts him. Daily and weekly fantasy sports use a salary cap system, but they don’t limit a player to a single team. In daily and weekly fantasy sports, you could theoretically have the same exact lineup as your opponent.

Then each week (or in the case of baseball, every day), each participant submits a lineup. The schedule for which of the other participants you face each week is determined by the commissioner of the league at the beginning of the season. At the end of the season, your record of wins and losses determines whether or not you make the playoffs. The winner of the playoffs wins the league and gets the prize money.

In the daily and weekly version of the hobby, you don’t play all season long. You have a single day’s or week’s games, and the winners are paid out immediately after the final scores become official.


Office pools are common in all kinds of businesses in the United States. Of course, if you’re in some kind of managerial position, you might be careful to not run afoul of any company rules. I know at some companies they frown on that sort of thing.

Any time you can get involved in an office pool, I recommend doing so—unless you’re a gambling addict or something. Unlike betting at a casino or with a sports book, you’re almost always getting a bet with no house edge.

Depending on the amount of skill involved, your chances of winning an office betting pool are almost always as good as anyone else’s. On the other hand, if it’s a skill-based contest, your chances might be significantly better or worse.

Either way, it’s a lot of fun to get some money into action with some buddies in an office pool.



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