You’re Breaking the Law Without Even Knowing It

Josh Hejka, Associate Editor
March 18, 2012

This March, as NCAA March Madness begins, a huge amount of betting also begins. Each year, over $3 billion changes hands because of bracket pools in America, most of it illegally through bookies and online sportsbooks. But surely joining an office or school pool can’t be illegal, right? It’s just friendly betting.

Actually, it depends on which state you live in. Federal law, as found in the United States Code, states that an “illegal gambling business” is a gambling business that, “(i) is a violation of the law of a State or political subdivision in which it is conducted; (ii) involves five or more persons who conduct, finance, manage, supervise, direct, or own all or part of such business; and (iii) has been or remains in substantially continuous operation for a period in excess of thirty days or has a gross revenue of $2,000 in any single day (18 USC § 1955).” Even if your pool with your coworkers or friends does not break these rules, the “State or political subdivision” section is still there to contend with.

According to the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act, Section 18, “(1) A person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $100,000.00, or both, and shall be barred from receiving or maintaining a [gaming] license for doing any of the following: (a) Conducting a gambling operation where wagering is used or to be used without a license issued by the board….” Clearly, nearly all the cheap, casual pools in Michigan break this rule, and this is just the felony rule.

Section 18 also states, “(3) A person, or an affiliate of a person, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year in a county jail or a $10,000.00 fine, or both, for doing any of the following: (a) Knowingly making a wager if the person is under 21 years of age or permitting a person under 21 years to make a wager….” Adults don’t have to worry about this, but any students reading this who entered a paid pool are guilty of a misdemeanor, possibly unknowingly.

This time of year is huge on betting, and the first three months of the year are easily the three with the most betting, as the Super Bowl and March Madness are contained in them. However, joining a pool with friends, family, coworkers, schoolmates, etc. is illegal in this state, and you may think it won’t happen to you, but it’s better to be safe and follow the law, because a SWAT team may just show up at your door and shoot you through the heart.

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