Power Players

The winner of Warren Buffett's March Madness office pool could get $1 million a year for life

Warren Buffett at a Creighton Bluejays NCAA basketball game in Omaha, Nebraska.
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Your office's March Madness pool most likely pales in comparison to what billionaire Warren Buffett is offering his employees if they can predict which teams make this year's Sweet 16 of the men's NCAA tournament.

The investor known as the "Oracle of Omaha" has a penchant for making multimillion-dollar bets that test his employees' predictive abilities, and this year's no different. Buffett is once again offering to pay $1 million a year for life to any of the employee of Berkshire Hathaway or its subsidiaries who accurately predicts the results of the first week of March Madness games.

Buffett confirmed that the multimillion-dollar challenge is back on this year in an interview with CNBC in February. Unfortunately for most basketball fans, the billionaire's offer is only available to the roughly 375,000 people who either work for Buffett's investment firm, Berkshire Hathaway, or one of that company's various subsidiaries (including insurance company Geico and fast-food chain Dairy Queen).

"All you have to do is get through the first bracket to win $1 million, assuming nobody else wins at the same time—then you split the million," Buffett told Becky Quick on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

If more than one employee manages to fill out a March Madness bracket that correctly picks the college teams that reach this year's Sweet 16, then those winners will split the $1 million prize each year for the rest of their lives, Buffett explained. And, if no one submits a perfect bracket for the first weekend of March Madness, then whoever lasts the longest into the tournament without missing a pick will win $100,000 (or split that amount in the case of multiple winners).

Buffett first offered a big March Madness prize in 2014, with a whopping $1 billion offer to the public (not just his employees) for anyone with a perfect bracket all the way through the NCAA tournament. Unsurprisingly, no one claimed that prize, since the odds of picking a perfect bracket are roughly one in 2.4 trillion, according to one estimate. (In fact, according to the NCAA, no one has ever officially picked a perfect bracket and the best anyone has ever done is to predict the first 39 games of the 67-game tournament, in 2017.)

However, in recent years, Buffett has tried to make his March Madness challenge a little bit easier (you only have to be perfect up to the Sweet 16, instead of the entire tournament) while limiting the contest to his many employees. Still, no one has yet claimed the big prize from Buffett.

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That's probably because it's still a really tough task. Last year, 16-seed UMBC's historic upset of Virginia helped ensure that there were no perfect brackets on ESPN.com after just the first round of the 2018 tournament. And, in 2017, only 18 people (out of 18.8 million brackets filled out on ESPN that year) managed to correctly predict the Sweet 16. None of them were Berkshire Hathaway employees either, as the Buffett employee who fared the best in 2017's March Madness bracket challenge was a West Virginia steel worker who won the $100,000 prize after correctly predicting 31 out of the first 32 games.

"Last year, it's true the favorites got knocked out early. But, we did split — there's a $100,000 consolation prize for whoever does the best," Buffett told CNBC.

Last year, Berkshire Hathaway's March Madness contest resulted in eight winners who split the $100,000 consolation prize to get $12,500 apiece.

The first round of this year's March Madness kicks off Thursday afternoon, and roughly 47 million people are expected to wager a total of $8.5 billion on this year's tournament, according to the American Gaming Association. And, filling out brackets for the annual tournament also typically takes time away from work for millions of American workers, as March Madness reportedly results in billions of dollars in lost productivity for employers each year.

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