Rand: Playing Buffett's bracket has a cost

  • Updated: March 18, 2014 - 7:31 AM

Warren Buffett, who at last calculation was worth just short of $60 billion, is running an NCAA bracket contest that puts any office pool to shame. The screaming, blaring headline of it all: pick every tournament game correctly — 63 total, meaning you don’t even need to choose the play-in winners — and you win $1 billion.

Yes, that’s billion, as in raised pinkie finger from Austin Powers.

It’s a shame nobody is going to win because I’m pretty sure almost all of us could use $1 billion, paid out in 40 annual installments of $25 million each (more than Joe Mauer makes).

It is the kind of contest that inspires grand visions of how to spend the winnings. But your odds of winning big in the Powerball are much better. In the official contest rules, a document that takes up approximately 7 percent of all existing server space in the world, there is this little nugget:

“Mathematical odds of winning the grand prize are 1:9,223,372,036,854,775,808, which may vary depending upon the knowledge and skill of the entrant.”

That’s about one in 9 quintillion. You add three zeros to a billion to get a trillion. Add three more to get a quadrillion. Add three more to get a quintillion. That’s a lot.

Now, there is some good news. First Slate.com contacted a math professor who determined that if an entrant is at least reasonably knowledgeable about college hoops, the odds “improve” to about 1 in 128 billion. But that still leaves the odds of anyone winning at a very remote long shot, at best.

The other good news: the top 20 finishers who don’t have a perfect bracket win $100,000 each — not obscene wealth, but a life-changing amount money for a lot of us. So people are going to get paid.

But now we’re back to the bad news: to enter, you have to give away a lot. It doesn’t cost money, and the field is capped at a generous 15 million entrants. But to be eligible for the prizes, you need to create a Yahoo account if you don’t have one, plus give out a lot of personal data that can be harvested by a home loan company.

I got pretty far into the registration process before deciding it just wasn’t worth it. I get enough e-mails I don’t want as it is, and I can’t remember a year when my vision of a perfect bracket wasn’t ruined within the first four hours of the NCAA tournament.

Still, the prospect was tantalizing enough to think about and write about. Buffett is getting a ton of publicity with minimal risk, proving again that you don’t amass billions by chance.

MICHAEL RAND

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