Friendly bets on the NCAA Tournament – by Jordan Kobritz

Even small-time bettors should be aware of is that interstate gambling in any form is illegal under federal law.

KobritzsmHas your NCAA bracket been busted yet?  If so, you can take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone.  You can also take comfort in knowing that you probably won’t get charged by the authorities for illegal gambling.

An estimated 60 million Americans filled out a bracket for this year’s tournament.  Many of those individuals also put down a friendly wager, which is legal at sports books in Nevada but illegal in most other jurisdictions in the United States.  There are exceptions.  Vermont is among the states that allow gambling on the NCAA Tournament and other events as long as it is in small amounts and consists of a “winner-take-all” format.  That means the organizer of the pool can’t take a cut.  Montana state statutes distinguish between “private” and public” gambling.  In other words, if your “office pool” is limited to people within your office, you’re technically complying with the law.

Another red flag that even small-time bettors should be aware of is that interstate gambling in any form is illegal under federal law.  That means using a phone to place a bet from one state to another, even to participate in your office pool, is considered a crime.  Internet gambling of any kind is also illegal.  Even placing a bet using offshore sites based in countries where gambling is legal violates U.S. law.  Engaging in such activity can raise the hackles of federal agents.

Fortunately, even in those jurisdictions where bracket pools are illegal, law enforcement personnel – many of whom fill out their own brackets – have more important things to do than harass office workers over $5 bets.  You probably have more to fear from your employer than you do the feds.

Bracket mania is a time sink and can have a negative impact on worker productivity.  According to the global placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, companies were expected to lose at least $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament.  But rather than discourage office pools, a number of companies, Dish Network included, encourage their employees to embrace March Madness as a means of building workplace camaraderie.

The reality is that most of us don’t bet on the NCAA Tournament to make money.  That may have changed this year when Warren Buffet announced the “Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Challenge with Yahoo Sports.”  Anyone who could correctly pick the winners of all 63 tourney games – the perfect bracket – would win a billion dollars.  But Buffet didn’t become the world’s richest person because he’s a fool.  According to DePaul University math Professor Jeff Bergen, the odds of winning the pool were 1 in 9.2 quintillion.  That makes the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot – 1 in 259 million – seem reasonable in comparison.  To no one’s surprise, none of the millions of entries in the Billion Dollar Challenge survived the second day of the tournament.

For most of us, the primary benefit of winning a pool is bragging rights among fellow workers or our social circle.  It also creates interest in the tournament and gives us an additional reason to watch the games, even if we aren’t fans of college basketball.  It’s one reason why March Madness has become so popular.  If you have a bet riding on the outcome of an event, you’re more likely to pay attention.  But does it promote gambling?  That depends on whom you ask.

To no one’s surprise, the NCAA states that it “opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering on college sports” because it leads to other forms of gambling.  The governing body goes on to detail some of the measures it has taken – including background checks on officials, presentations against sports gambling, and education of student-athletes and coaches – to discourage sports gambling.  This from an organization that designated a Windsor, Ontario hotel affiliated with Caesars Casino – which takes sports wagering – as an official hotel during the 2009 Final Four in Detroit.  Perhaps that’s just another sign of how indigenous to our culture gambling has become.

The best advice for enjoying March Madness without looking over your shoulder is to stick to your office pool, don’t bet too much, and don’t take the game results too seriously.  They don’t call it March Madness for nothing.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner.  He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog:  Jordan can be reached at

© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed