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Buffett’s $1B March Madness bet

By Jay MacDonald ·
Friday, February 7, 2014
Posted: 6 am ET

Ah, March Madness! The festive season of office-pool meltdowns, embarrassing displays of alumni colors and, occasionally, a wager so outrageous that it prompts the question, "Been to Colorado lately? Or Washington state?"

And while I seriously doubt that a level-headed dude like Warren Buffett has turned marijuana tourist, news that his Berkshire Hathaway will back the $1 billion -- with a "B"! -- prize offered by Quicken Loans to contest entrants who correctly pick every winner in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament certainly sounds Rocky-Mountain-high.

Billion, schmillion

Buffett, of course, is no newcomer to unusual, high-stakes insurance gambles. His well-diversified Omaha, Neb.-based company, which owns everything from Geico auto insurance to Dairy Queen and Fruit of the Loom, previously prospered by taking premiums in exchange for protection of the 2010 World Cup soccer finale in South Africa. Nor does the B-word frighten Buffett, who previously backed a $1 billion prize offered in a Pepsico-sponsored contest.

If you can't wait to lock in your brackets, here are the details: The 68-team, single-elimination NCAA tournament begins in March. Submissions to the Quicken Loans contest will be limited to one per household and capped at 10 million entrants. The winner will be paid in annual installments of $25 million for 40 years. Multiple winners will split the billion bucks.

What are your odds of joining Buffett in the billionaire's club? Jeff Bergen, a math professor at DePaul University in Chicago, crunched the numbers and puts the odds at less than 1 in 9 quintillion -- that's a 9 with 18 zeroes nudging it forward.

"If you're just guessing, you basically have no chance," Bergen says in a video about the contest.

The fattest of chances

Even a knowledgeable bracket fanatic like President Barack Obama has only a 1 in 128 billion chance of winning, in Bergen's estimation. Oh well, back to the old day job.

Nor is history on your side. Last year, not one of the 8.15 million brackets submitted to ESPN ran the table. Even after the field was cut in half, the best anyone could do was 30 and 2.

Even if a long shot were to come in, a billion-dollar loss would barely warrant a text message for the world's fourth-wealthiest individual, whose company insures against far more likely and costly natural catastrophes on a daily basis. As Buffett reassured stockholders regarding this March Madness bet, Berkshire Hathaway, with stock and bond assets of $170 billion, could withstand a $250 billion loss, or roughly triple the worst natural disaster in history, and still post a "significant profit" for the year.

While Quicken Loans refused to say how much they're paying for Berkshire Hathaway's just-in-case coverage, odds are that the Oracle of Omaha will emerge the only victor in this high-stakes March Madness wager.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.

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Emily Cowart
February 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm

It is unbelievable that one person could have that much money when
we are personally hungry even though we have been good workers all
of our lives. The economy has been terrible for us. I would like
to talk with Warren Buffett, if he has so much to give away, I could use only $25,000. to get me on easy street for the rest of my life.

February 21, 2014 at 9:19 am

I just don't get it. I can't even fathom the opportunity to have that kind of money to just blow on a basketball game. I mean I get that one can do with their money whatever they want, but when there are so many people struggling to make ends meet, you would think there are so many other ways to put that kind of money to better use. No offense to the NCAA or any other sports team.

February 20, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Looks like Warren wants to blow some money he ought to take care of his newly aquired paper buisnesses that he or his people are

February 17, 2014 at 5:07 pm