Will that office 'pool' lead you to the 'pokey?'

By Brad A. Brelinski

Curtis and Curtis

Can office pools drown you in criminal trouble?

Did you fill out your NCAA March Madness office bracket this year? March Madness and the Super Bowl are two of the country's biggest gambling events, and not just for avid sports fans.

Why is March Madness so popular? Perhaps it's the office pools and morning water cooler talk about the Cinderella upsets, buzzer beaters, and most importantly, who is leading the pool.

But is entering the office pool for a few bucks considered illegal gambling, or is there a loophole? Technically, it is illegal, as the only place in America to legally wager on sports is Nevada (it is even illegal in Atlantic City).

But will your mug shot be plastered across the front page of the local newspaper? I highly doubt it. Police agencies (and everyone else for that matter) understand that this illegal gambling takes place, but just like any other entity, they must prioritize and use their limited resources wisely.

In fact, I would bet money (hypothetically speaking, of course) that many police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and even judges participate in bracket mania.

March Madness office pools have become so prevalent that some states have considered legislation that would make participating in one an exception to the gambling laws.

In 2008, a Michigan state representative introduced a bill that did so if the entry fees were $20 or less and consisted of 100 people or fewer.

The proposed legislation, however, never came to fruition.

As many remember, the most highly publicized case involving office pools was in 2003, when University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired after wagering on March Madness, and lying about it to school and NCAA authorities.

It should be noted, however, that Neuheisel later obtained a $4.5 million settlement from the university and the NCAA over the firing, and it is believed that other factors played into the termination, including alleged NCAA violations and the overall state of the football program.

So, as you pick your upset specials and fork over that tournament entry fee, have fun - as March Madness brings to Michigan something much more important - warmer weather.

Obligatory Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice. The author would never advocate breaking the law. Enter office pools at your own risk.

Brad A. Brelinski is an attorney with Curtis and Curtis, P.C., a full service law firm in Jackson, Michigan. He can be reached at brad@curtiscurtislaw.com or 517-787-9481.

Published: Thu, Mar 18, 2010

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