Legal Insight. Business Instinct.

Gambling on March Madness

Henry Weinhard’s Root Beer. That beverage is about as good as it gets to a 17 year-old on a warm summer day. “Loser buys winner a six pack of Henry’s,” my friend had said in challenging my other friend and me to a game of basketball. While he was a good player, he was not that good. In hindsight I may have overlooked the fact that I was a scrawny cross-country runner who was probably 130 pounds soaking wet, and my teammate to be was a football player who liked to hit people. Nevertheless, we accepted the challenge and liked our chances in the two-on-one matchup. What ensued was neither pretty nor fun. The game came down to one decisive play which I have absolutely no recollection of. All I remember is that there was a dispute over the rules, which was going to determine the outcome. Both sides became entrenched, and by entrenched I mean I began screaming and losing control over my limbs while our opponent chuckled. I ended up leaving in a huff. “What started out as a joke [had] turned into a disaster!” (Yes, that is a Rocky IV quote.)

My initial foray into gambling left a bad taste in my mouth, not for the moral reasons it probably should have, but instead because I did not like the way I behaved with something riding on the outcome of an otherwise friendly game. Because of that experience, I am still reluctant to this day to put “skin in the game.” Even when it comes time to do something I love like filling out brackets for March Madness – there is never any desire on my part to put money on the line because I am afraid of how I will behave when things get tense. Fortunately for CBS, this is not an infirmity afflicting most Americans. The moral implications of putting a few bucks into a March Madness pool could be endlessly debated (and I am certainly not suggesting how that debate should come out). As adeptly pointed out by my partner, John Avondet, there is a separate legal question that one must consider before plunging into the pool of college-basketball-betting-iniquity. Is putting money in a March Madness pool illegal?

Let’s break it down much like one does when deciding what team to pick in filling out a bracket. Idaho Code § 18-3801 defines gambling as, “risking any money . . . or other thing of value for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device or the happening or outcome of an event . . .” So by putting a few dollars into the pool one is “risking money” on the “outcome of an event” and clearly meeting the statutory definition of gambling.

Idaho Code § 18-3802 further provides that a person is guilty of gambling if he: “participates in gambling; or knowingly permits gambling to be played . . . in any real or personal property owned, rented, or under the control of the actor . . . .” The statute further provides that gambling is a misdemeanor. So if you participate or are an employer and know about the office pool under the plain terms of the statute you are guilty of a misdemeanor.

Idaho Code § 18-3803 goes even further and provides, “Every prosecuting attorney, sheriff, constable or police office, must inform against and diligently prosecute persons whom they have reasonable cause to believe offenders against the provisions of this chapter, and every such officer refusing or neglecting to do is guilty of a misdemeanor.” So be careful, if law enforcement catches wind of your office pool they have an absolute duty to diligently pursue you or they themselves are guilty of misdemeanors. So if, for example, the prosecutor’s office, hypothetically speaking of course, had an office pool, they would be committing a misdemeanor in participating in the pool and an additional misdemeanor for failing to prosecute themselves.

So the next time you casually bet a six-pack of Henry’s or contribute to the office pool, you might want to make sure you have a prosecutor or two participating so as to avoid prosecution.

Jeff Brunson is an attorney and shareholder at Beard St. Clair Gaffney PA. The opinions contained are his own and nothing written should be construed as legal advice. Jeff’s practice involves litigation, business disputes, and estate disputes. He can be reached at his Rexburg office, 520 First American Circle, (208) 359-5883, or follow him on Twitter @jeffbrunson.

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