**Disclaimer: the views expressed in this post should not be taken as legal advice.**
March Madness is just around the corner, and if your office culture supports the fun and drama of NCAA tournament season by making things interesting (read: playing with real money), you’re not alone. But you’re also not alone if you’ve ever wondered about the legality of this fun tradition.
We don’t want to be a wet blanket, but it’s a good idea to look twice at the practice before you participate. It’s an even better idea if you’re a manager or business owner, not just an employee.
And it’s a REALLY good idea to take a close look if you own, manage, or hold a leadership position at a law firm. Here are a few key takeaways to keep in mind.
Is it legal to hold a pay-for-play NCAA tournament pool at the office?
The short answer: probably not. Promoting a lottery is technically a crime under various state and federal laws. Some states have amended their gambling laws to create carve outs that exempt certain types of office pools, but these are still in the minority. But does your March Madness pool fit the definition of “promoting a lottery”? Your practice can be considered an illegal game of chance if it contains three elements: chance, consideration and reward. Consideration and reward are both checked boxes if your game includes an entry fee and a prize. But “chance” is the wild card, so to speak.
Since the definition is open to layers of philosophical and mathematical scrutiny, courts use a variety of tests to determine if a specific game fits the bill. But because gazing into a crystal ball to predict future events almost always intertwines with chance, some courts disregard the mathematical nitpicking involved in these tests and move straight to historical precedent.
Unfortunately, if you happen to find yourself in court over your NCAA tournament pool, historical precedent may not be on your side. In the 1953 case Commonwealth vs Laniewski, it was found that “expert predictions” are not infallible, so chance ruled the outcome of the game. https://www.leagle.com/decision/1953418173pasuper2451372
Additional Laws that May Apply
Keep in mind that even if your game steers clear of the three elements that determine an illegal lottery, you may be subject to other laws that forbid betting or wagering using “wire communications”, which include the phone or internet.
And the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 forbids “gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law.” https://www.fdic.gov/news/news/financial/2010/fil10035a.pdf
When it comes to the activities you conduct or condone in your own office, you’re certainly free to assess the risks and make your own decision. And of course, most NCAA tournament pools are ignored by law enforcement simply due to their prevalence, the relatively small amounts of money involved, and because most officers have better things to do than arrest Pat from HR for wagering $20 on Duke. As with many nuanced decisions we make while navigating a complicated world, you’ll have to ask yourself: is the fun worth the risk? That question in itself is a kind of gamble… Good luck!
For help with thorny IT and internet-based questions that may arise as you manage your law firm from day to day, contact the team at Exactify.IT.
Tags: NCAA Pool, Are NCAA Pools Legal, Are March Madness Pools Legal, March Madness