I know sports betting is illegal in most of the United States, but dammit, it still really grinds my gears when a sports betting or betting-related enterprise, event, or site that otherwise isn’t hurting anyone gets busted. That’s what happened last week when federal agents shut down Ron & Mike’s Football Pool, seizing money and the business’s documentation.
First reported by ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Ron & Mike’s Football Pool had been run by Ron Kronengold and Mike Bernstein for at least eight years. It was an online “survivor pool,” in which participants picked one NFL team to win each week. If that team wins, the participant moves on to the next week. If the team loses, the player is done in the contest. The big catch is that a player cannot choose the same team more than once.
These types of pools are common, both online (ESPN.com has one called the Eliminator Challenge) and among friends or in the workplace. They are a fun way to get a sweat during the NFL week and not only require at least a some sort of skill in picking a winner, but also to strategize picks, knowing you can’t just pick the team with the best matchup every week.
But Ron and Mike, based out of New York, ran their pool online for real money. If they did not take a rake from the entry fees, this would not be illegal in the state, so it is still a bit of a mystery why their site was shut down or what charges they might eventually be facing. According to ESPN.com, there was nothing in the contest rules that said the site was getting a cut.
That said, there was a lot of money involved, with total prizes this season estimated to be more than $2.5 million. ESPN reports that there were two pools initially this NFL season, each with a maximum of 10,000 entries at $100 apiece. Because of their popularity, a $200 “second chance” pool was created. A $100 mid-season pool and a $500 high-roller pool were also available. There were more than 23,000 entries across all of the pools.
Ron and Mike clearly didn’t hide the pool, as players could register at ronandmike.com (the URL is no longer active) and Kronengold himself received a trademark on the name “Ron & Mike’s” in 2012. At the same time, they only took cash for entry fees and players had to mail it to “Green River” at a Plainview, New York UPS Store P.O. Box.
Players who were still alive in the pools received a communication from Ron & Mike’s which read:
Please be advised that the Ron and Mike website has been forced to shut down at this time and is unlikely to open again. We understand your frustration and anger at this time but closure of the pool is beyond our control. We apologize to those that are still alive in our various pools and we ask for your patience and understanding while we contemplate the next steps. Unfortunately at this time we cannot make any additional comments.