The Insider: Rise of the pick 'em

The pick 'em continues to rise along the Strip. Getty Images

This column appears in the September 21 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

In the fall of 2006, Margaret Hamblin, then 73, was tending bar at the Lake Elsinore Elks Lodge in Wildomar, Calif. For kicks, the grandmother and Cari Gardner, a waitress at the lodge, organized a Monday Night Football pool. Ten people, five bucks each. Winner take all -- the whole $50 pot.

They should have raised the stakes.

Agents from the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, acting on a hot tip, quickly shut down the operation. Seriously, someone actually ratted out Grandma. Gardner and Hamblin were arrested, fingerprinted and photographed. They each pleaded guilty to operating a pool and paid a $130 fine. After a six-month probation, their records were expunged. They got off easy. The maximum penalty for their sordid offense was a year in prison.

But there's good news for the dastardly duo and their fellow Californians: It's safe to wade back in the pool. Last month, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that downgraded the running of office pools from a misdemeanor to an infraction, the equivalent of a speeding ticket. The big guy came through just under the wire. Yes, it's that time of year again, when getting paid on Thursday is only slightly more important than getting your picks in on Friday.

To learn more about the rise of 'pick em and what it means for Vegas, the culture of betting and your office pools, you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider