Is it illegal to participate in March Madness office pools?

March Madness Bracket

March Madness has become a favorite pastime of Americans, young and old. Office pools are extremely popular and a great way to interact with your fellow co-workers. According to a survey done by Vault, 69% of survey participants have participated in a March Madness office pool. If so many employees participate, it must be legal, right? Unfortunately, it is illegal to participate in most office pools.

No Entry Fee Office Brackets

If you are participating an office pool and do not pay an entry fee, then it is legal. Even if there is a prize, as long as you are not paying an entry-fee, you are not gambling. However, while it may be legal, you should check with HR to be sure that participation in office pools are not a violation of company policy.

Entry Fee Office Brackets

Entry fee office pools may be a fun way to have a little friendly competition, not to mention a great way to earn extra cash, but it is illegal in most states. In 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). PASPA prevented most states from offering legal sports betting. Since then, according to the American Gaming Association, 25 states and Washington D.C. have legalized sports betting, with 21 legal markets operational. And, 17 more states currently have active or pre-filed legislation to legalize sports betting. It seems that it won’t be long until all states legalize some form of sports betting.

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However, even if sports betting is legal in your state, there exceptions on who and how betting can take place. The laws were not enacted to allow Bob in accounting to start a side gambling business. The laws were created to allow licensed venues to facilitate sports betting in a regulated environment. Unless you work in Nevada, or states like Montana, Connecticut or Vermont, where social betting is legal as long as the organizer does not take a cut, you will be participating in illegal activity. You will have to review your state law to determine the legality of office pools as these laws are always evolving. But, generally speaking, office pools are illegal in most states.

Consequences

What are the consequences of participating in an illegal office pool? Will you be arrested? While the penalty for participating in illegal gambling can be prison time or a hefty fine, chances are, you will not be arrested for paying a small entry fee into a small office pool. I’m not saying that it can’t happen, just that it has not yet happened.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. It provides general information and is not intended and should not be construed as professional advice. The author is not your attorney, accountant, financial planner or any other professional and no professional-client relationship is created. We do not represent that the information provided is accurate or up-to-date as laws and regulations are always changing. If you have an issue that requires professional help, you should contact the appropriate professional to help you on your specific set of facts. Please read the Terms and Conditions for additional information.

Alicia H. Lillegard, Esq.

Alicia Lillegard has over 20 years of experience in employment law, human resources and insurance, working with with large blue chip companies, startups, and not-for-profit organizations. Ms. Lillegard is currently Managing Director of New England Human Capital, a human resources consultancy which advises small and midsize businesses on Human Resources compliance, including employment procedures, employee relations and employee benefits. She holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago and John Marshall Law School.

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