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March Madness: Are Office Betting Pools Legal?

16 March 2011 by admin

marchMadnessTNOffice betting pools are pretty common. Often, they involve sports, such as the Super Bowl, World Cup or NCAA basketball tournament. Other times, it is proposition betting. My office held a betting pool on when our boss would return from his vacation, with guesses ranging from 2 weeks to four months. A current pool we have going is when a pregnant employee will give birth.

With March Madness getting ready to heat up (actually, the first round began yesterday), it’s a good time to ask a fundamental question people often ask at this time: Are the office betting pools legal? Here’s your simple answer: maybe.

The laws regarding this are all over the map. In some countries, office betting pools are considered illegal sports betting. In some jurisdictions it is illegal but unenforced, while other places will actually fine violators and charge them with a crime. If you’re the organizer of the pool, the punishment can be steep in many places. Within a single country, the laws may change between jurisdictions.

Take the United States, for example. At the federal level, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 bans sports betting in the country, except those that already existed in Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana. Of course, as I proved in an earlier blog post, that law is blatantly unconstitutional. Because of the language of the bill, it is unclear whether that law considers office pools sports betting. Many experts maintain that it does. To be safe, you should assume that it does and act accordingly.

What that means is that the office pools would be illegal unless they are allowed in your state, because state law trumps federal law at the intrastate level. There are many different laws among the states regarding those office pools. In the state of Washington, the only legal sports betting pools use 100-square grids, with the players paying $1 or less for each square. That is the common type of pool for the Super Bowl, but not the Big Dance. Still, Washington authorities have never been known to take action against an office pool that was not a large operation with the organizer taking a cut.

In Texas, office pools are perfectly legal as long as the organizer doesn’t make any money off of the pool. If 100% of the money wagered on the pool is paid out to winners, it does not violate state law. In Illinois, however, all office pools are illegal and considered misdemeanor gambling. On a second offence, it is a felony.

kemba_walker--300x450To be sure that the office pools are legal, you should check on the laws in your jurisdiction. In the U.S., I recommend checking state, county and city laws. If that seems like too much trouble, take comfort in this: If you violate the law in low-stakes gambling, you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than by being prosecuted. If you enter a low-stakes tournament bracket pool and win $100, you don’t have to look over your shoulder for the government. However, if you win thousands on a betting pool, well, that income is a lot easier to notice.

To be clear, I don’t advocate breaking any law, regardless of the likeliness of getting caught. Also to be clear, though, since PASPA is unconstitutional, it should not exist. The law makes sports betting illegal by default unless the state specifically has a law saying it is legal. If PASPA did not exist, then it would be the opposite: sports betting would be legal by default except in states that have laws specifically saying it is illegal.

While we’re on the subject, my Final Four predictions are Ohio State, UConn, Kansas and Wisconsin. Don’t bet on it, though.

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