Many believe this week is the greatest week in all of sports. Work efficiency goes in the can, attention is diverted, and more than 50 million red blooded Americans will be living and dying on whether the sophomore shooting guard from Dingleberry Tech can finish the back half of his two free throws to knock out a national power like Duke or Michigan State. Hopes that are so high in the opening round are often crushed like an egg in round two or three. This, my friends is March Madness. The thrill of not only watching your team play for it all, but also having the chance to win a little cash in your local pool is, in my opinion, one of America’s greatest sports traditions. But are these sports pools legal? Like any other question to a lawyer, the answer is going to be a resounding and useless, “it depends.” Wa wa wa… In all actuality the answer hinges on whether you pay to play.
If you are in a pool where everyone just plays for “fun,” and submits a bracket with no hope of sweet, sweet, beer money victory then you’re going to be ok and you haven’t done anything wrong, other than maybe be a little boring. It is highly unlikely that in this situation you’ll need to buzz your criminal attorney friend after being arrested for violating a Federal or State law or gaming regulation. No reason to get your Mom jeans in a bundle. As a law-abiding attorney, I reside in the village of Mom jeans basketball brackets.
Now, if you, like the other 49,999,995 American basketball tournament fans drop at least a twenty spot in support of your favorite round ballers, you could be in violation of a few Federal and State laws. Back around 1961 our friends up in DC decided to poo in America’s cheerios yet again (see prohibition) by passing the “Interstate Wire Act of 1961” coded as 18 USC 1084. In passing this law, these boring folks made it illegal and punishable by up to two years in the Federal poke to engage in the business of betting or wagering by using a wire communication facility for the transmission into interstate or foreign commerce bets or information assisting a bet. What the hell does that mean? May need a Federal criminal lawyer to figure it out. Where could we find one of those? It means that if you get on the phone, dial up your interweb, shoot a text to your buddy, send an IM, tweet, Facebook a friend, or use any other electronic method that hasn’t been ruled out of this statute, that you could be getting a visit from Federal Officer Friendly. My definition could be a little over or underbroad in reality but you get the gist. Technically you OR your buddy running the pool could get popped under this statute. In all seriousness though, this act was aimed at organized crime to shut down their book making ventures. In all actuality it probably was a decent thing.
What about your buddy that may think he’s a bookie or your favorite sports bar that hosts your favorite March Madness pool? Again, see above. They could also find trouble through the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. This Federal law, codified at 28 USC 3701, makes it illegal for a private individual to run a betting scheme based on a competitive game in which a professional or amateur athlete plays. What this statute also did was fill in gaps left by the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 with respect to intrastate (occurring wholly within a State) gambling activities. The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 only dealt with interstate gambling activities. In other words, the Feds can now slap around those that run our pools for activity completely within our respective State of residence. Organized crime, blah blah blah.
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