Sports

Are you breaking the law when you play an NCAA bracket?

Brian McCrea, left and Earl Elliott place school names on a six-story, 72-by-48-foot NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament bracket Sunday, March 13, 2005, in St. Louis, the host city for the 2005 Final Four. The world's largest tournament bracket will be updated after each round and remain up until the completion of the tournament. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) Library Tag 03162005 National/Foreign
AP

Here’s a March Madness question to ponder: Is entering an NCAA bracket pool a violation of federal or state laws? Some experts say it could be.

But tens of millions of college basketball fans who are about to spend hours making their picks probably don’t need to worry about getting busted.

Marc Edelman wrote in Forbes that pay-to-enter NCAA pools seem to violate three federal laws: the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, and the Uniform Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

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But the typical pool participant really has nothing to worry about, attorney Anthony N. Cabot told NPR:

Cabot says he thinks most of the run-of-the-mill pools are perfectly OK if it's "a casual bet between people and no one is making a profit."

But Forbes’ Edelman advises that those running the game would have a somewhat increased chance of facing legal trouble:

...even if we are comfortable playing in NCAA Tournament pools, it might be best to avoid serving as a pool administrator. If anybody is at heightened risk for getting prosecuted under current gambling laws for involvement in NCAA pools, those individuals collecting and paying out prize money seem to be in the most dangerous position.

It’s also possible the bracket could violate state law, Edelman writes, especially “where these pools involve more than a certain amount of money changing hands, and the pools are found to be based on ‘chance.’”:

Another thing to consider is your company’s policies. The NPR report suggests that if you’re joining an office pool, it’s a good idea to find out whether the company specifically bans gambling.

And another warning from the NPR report is not to forget the IRS:

(Cook County Ill. Sheriff Tom) Dart says you don't necessarily have to worry about the police - you need to worry about an IRS investigation. He adds, "If you do hit it big, and you walk away with a lot of money, and you happen to get audited, and it turns out you never declared it as income, that's a problem."

Got all that? Great, now go dominate your brackets.

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