March Madness And Your Illegal Office Pool
Hey, I know you.
You never run a red light. You don’t shoplift. You pay your taxes.
You give to charities. You volunteer at the local soup kitchen. You pick up litter on your morning walk.
You think of yourself as a good citizen.
So what’s that piece of legal-sized paper you’re poring over?
Aha! An NCAA bracket. For your friendly office pool. Five bucks could win you $500 if you win. But you won't. Chances are your brackets will be hanging in the break room as a joke by the end of week one.
(Mine were once. Why not yours?)
Win or lose, if you're wagering money on college basketball you’re committing a crime. Unless you happen to live in Delaware, Montana, Oregon or Nevada, that is.
Those are the four states that were grandfathered in under federal gaming laws.
I’m guessing that - like me - you live in one of the 46 states where sports betting is illegal. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in your scofflaw status. ABC estimates that 24 million Americans entered NCAA Tournament pools last year, betting a total of $2.6 billion.
That's a whole lotta lawbreakers. And a lot of loot.
I once wrote a column for The Pilot on the subject of March Madness and learned that even several local prosecutors’ offices were operating pools of their own. They laughed about the law and said they would not be sniffing out other local sports gamblers. Not during March anyway.
Truth is, part of the fun of filling out brackets - for the chronically law-abiding - is knowing that it’s illegal.
Turns out being naughty is delicious now and then.
In a piece headlined, “Yes, Your March Madness Office Bracket Is Technically Illegal,” lawyers at the National Law Review answered the question that comes up every year and offered tips to keep the scope of your illegal activity to a minimum.
For instance, they sternly suggest you not take a cut of the winnings if you’re the pool administrator and that you confine your pool participants to residents of a single state.
They also suggest you consider a pool with no entry fee and a prize that isn’t cash.
Yeah, right. That's not happening.
“As lawyers, we have to point out that your company’s March Madness pool is very likely illegal under at least three federal gambling laws (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, and the Uniform Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) and many state laws. And we would be remiss to not mention that there is a parade of horribles that could happen from permitting such workplace wagering.
“With that said, the more practical reality is that office pools have become a widely-practiced and culturally accepted form of gambling, law enforcement authorities seem to have little interest in enforcing laws that technically prohibit them, and many employers view these office pools as a workplace morale booster.”
A parade of horribles? Wish the counsellors would cite a single case where something horrible happened to those involved in an ordinary low-stakes office pool.
Seems to me we're posing the wrong questions about March Madness. Rather than asking if office pools are legal we ought to be asking why they aren’t.
No one is hurt by betting on college hoops. It gins up interest in what would otherwise be a tedious 68-team tournament. Oh, and some lucky gamblers actually win.
The Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a New Jersey case that some say could legalize sports betting in all 50 states.
Will the court effectively legalize all our shady office pools by next year? Don't bet on it.
In the meantime, good luck with your 2018 brackets.
The odds of winning are long. But the odds of getting busted are even longer.