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In the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament last year, the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky, a 12 seed, took on the Bulldogs of Drake University, a 5 seed. Western Kentucky’s Ty Rogers hit a three-point buzzer-beater in overtime to upset Drake. I watched the game in a local sports bar, where the lone Hilltopper fan ran yelling through the bar, out the door and into the middle of the street. No doubt, sports fans take the tournament seriously. For some, it’s enough to watch two days of great basketball and revel in the inevitable upsets. But for others, there is big money on the line.
It is tournament time again. From the moment the tournament bracket was released on Selection Sunday until tip off in the opening game on Tuesday, sports fans across the nation will make their picks and will lock in their brackets. Even non-sports fans will fill out a bracket in hopes of winning the office pool. But aren’t all these people breaking the law? The short answer is yes. NCAA tournament pools are a form of illegal gambling in most states. However, some states allow gambling on the tournament. For example, Vermont allows tournament pools so long as the winner takes all (i.e. the organizer does not take a cut of the money). Other states have similar de minimis exceptions.
If you have already thrown $5 into your office pool, you can take comfort in the fact that no one seems to have been prosecuted for an office pool before. Apparently law enforcement has bigger fish to fry. So long as the pool stays small and the organizer does not take a cut of the money, you probably will not find yourself spending time in jail.
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