Newark, NJ—The 10 by 10 grid is as much part of Super Bowl Sunday as Bud light commercials, Buffalo wings and an over-hyped halftime show.
Also known as a box pool, the 100-square grid is the most common form of betting among colleagues, friends and family members who typically wager $5, $10 or even $20 per box to make the Big Game a little more interesting.
But in Newark, the stakes on the Fire Division's Super Bowl pool are much higher.
As many as 100 Newark Fire Division firefighters of all ranks have $50,000 wagered on the game in apparent violation of civil service rules.
A betting pool grid obtained by TAPinto Newark for Sunday's game shows NFD members belonging to various firehouses throughout the city—including chiefs and captains—delineated by specific Engine, Tour, Rescue and Special Operations units, along with dozens of individual firefighters, have thrown in $500 per box on 100 boxes on Sunday’s game.
First and third quarter bets total $6,750 each, with half-time at $9,000 and game final at $22,500, which totals $45,000.
A designated "bookie" running the betting pool shaves 10 percent off the top, for a cut of $5,000. The firefighter-cum-bookie allegedly arranges the bets, collects the cash, then delivers the cash winnings to the firehouse.
"It started out small," said a longtime Newark firefighter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Guys would bet 10, 20 bucks. But now it's gotten out of hand. It's caused problems in the firehouse."
While office pools are technically illegal, New Jersey law enforcement rarely prosecutes such cases.
However, gambling among municipal employees is a violation of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) administrative codes, which prohibit pool-selling, bookmaking or any unlawful game or gambling of any kind. The code was last amended in 2005.
According to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission handbook in the section regarding the “Prohibition against lottery and gambling,” licensed firehouses cannot engage in, allow or permit any form of gambling, including pool-selling.
Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said the department is not aware of any formal allegations.
"I do not, nor will I condone any behavior that violates our state or federal laws or the rules and regulations govern our actions," Ambrose said. "We have received no formal allegation of gambling or drinking by members of the Newark Fire Division. Although we will not comment on any active or ongoing investigations, if we receive an allegation, an investigation will be initiated. Any sustained allegation of wrongdoing against any member of the Department of Public Safety will result in the appropriate disciplinary and corrective actions.”
According to several Newark firefighters who spoke on the condition of anonymity, gambling on major sports games has been ongoing at the NFD for at least two decades, yet NFD superior officers have allegedly turned a blind eye.
“We are supposed to have a no tolerance policy for gambling but there is a double standard,” said one longtime firefighter who requested anonymity. “It’s been going on as long as I’ve been there.”
"The hierarchy at the department is aware of what's going on and they choose to ignore it," said another NFD firefighter who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. "This has been going on for more than two decades. They have to pay taxes on these winnings and they don't. Ignorance is not an excuse, this is common sense."
The firefighters confirmed that bets are placed on most major sporting events.
According to New Jersey state law, gambling winning must be reported on federal income tax returns. These winnings include money or prizes earned from betting pools, casino games and lotteries, among others.
Gambling winnings are generally subject to a 25 percent tax, while winnings over $5,000 are subject to income tax withholding, including wagering pools, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Several other Newark firefighters allege that firehouses throughout the city have also been the scene of pornographic materials, sexual activity and drinking.
According to the City of Newark Fire Department Rules, Article 28, drinking while on duty is cause for immediate suspension.
The NFD has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after a Newark firefighter came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation.
Newark firefighter Latina Byrd, 47, alleged that she had been sexually harassed and discriminated against during her 14 years at the NFD and that her superior officers ignored her complaints.
Byrd alleges that repeated complaints to Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose, as well as to chief of staff Amiri "Middy" Baraka, Jr., have also gone ignored.
The Newark Fire Division currently operates nineteen engine companies, twelve ladder companies and two rescue companies out of nineteen firehouses throughout the city, with NFD headquarters located on Clinton Avenue.