Cashing in on March Madness

About $300 billion is bet in office pools each year, but PicksPal will settle for a small piece of that action.

By Michael V. Copeland, Business 2.0 magazine senior writer

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- It's time for the NCAA basketball tournament, which means that U.S. office pool betting - an illicit market that, by some estimates, is as large as $300 billion a year - is about to take off again.

That's good news for PicksPal, the 14-month-old brainchild of Tom Jessiman, a former vice president at CBS SportsLine.com. PicksPal members win points by betting on outcomes during a sporting event - not just which team wins but also things like how many points a specific player will score in a certain quarter.

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About $300 billion is bet in office pools each year, but PicksPal will settle for a small piece of that action.

Users with the most points weekly win prizes like iPods, concert tickets, and flat-screen televisions; the top-rated pickers in a given month are highlighted on the site and can also sell their picks to other users for $20 a pop.

The football season was good to Picks-Pal. Traffic has grown almost 10-fold since October to 1 million unique visitors a month, and the number of registered members has doubled to 200,000.

But that's just for starters.

Figuring that March Madness is the best opportunity of the year to grow his business, Jessiman created an incentive for users to invite their sports-obsessed buddies to the site: If they win a prize, so do you. "I'm going to be giving away two of a lot of things," Jessiman says.

But if he can move a significant chunk of the $300 billion action online, it'll be worth it.

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.