Hoops hypocrisy? Office pools still illegal in many states Print
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Wednesday, 19 March 2008 13:23
NCAAB Headline News


 NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -While you're busy checking free throw percentages and rebounding margins as you fill in the last teams in your NCAA tournament bracket, there's something else you might want to take a peek at: your state's criminal code.
Office pools are illegal in many states, despite the efforts of some legislators to change statutes they say are outdated and rarely enforced.
``Right now, in every office and factory - and maybe even in some state capitols - there are people engaging in criminal behavior,'' said Wisconsin state Sen. Jeff Plale. ``It's just silly.''
Plale introduced legislation last year that would have legalized most office pools in Wisconsin. It never made it to a vote, although Plale said no one spoke in opposition. He plans to reintroduce the bill.
Legislation proposed by Michigan state Rep. Kim Meltzer met a similar fate. The bill would have exempted NCAA college basketball tournament brackets with entry fees of $20 or less and consisting of 100 people or fewer from the definition of gambling under Michigan law. The money would have to be divided only among participants.
Even hoops-mad North Carolina, home to 2008 tournament participants North Carolina, Duke and Davidson, considers ``any person who plays at or bets on any game of chance at which any money, property or other thing of value is bet'' to be guilty of a Class II misdemeanor.
In other states, gambling on sports is prohibited - but the laws contain enough loopholes for the average bracket buff to rest easy.
In New Jersey, for example, gambling laws contain an exception that can be interpreted as giving a pass to people who participate in pools in which no one takes any profit beyond personal winnings.
If authorities ever decided to crack down on office pools, there would be a treasure trove awaiting them. While it is impossible to break down the estimated several billion dollars wagered legally and illegally on the tournament, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the NCAA has heard reports of individual pools with more than $100,000 in prize money.
The NCAA's stance on gambling is clear. The association attempted unsuccessfully to have all sports wagering on college games banned in Las Vegas several years ago, and it prohibits student athletes, coaches and administrators from taking part in bracket pools where an entry fee is required.
Bracket contests that don't require an entry fee are not off limits, Osburn said.
``We oppose all forms of legal and illegal wagering on college sports,'' Osburn said. ``We think there can be a lot of fun around March Madness without there being any money involved.''
There is little evidence of law enforcement cracking down on office pools. But in a highly publicized case in 2003, the University of Washington fired football coach Rick Neuheisel for participating in an NCAA tournament pool. He later won a $4.5 million settlement from the school and the NCAA over the firing.
Most people view a $5 or $10 office pool as a harmless diversion, but experts in problem gambling say it can be the first step down a slippery slope.
``One of the things we say is that all gambling starts out as recreation,'' said Keith Whyte, director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. ``Obviously, for some people it progresses to a problem. That's not to say that the guy who spends 20 hours constructing the world's best bracket is going to become a problem gambler.''
For Plale, it is a question of updating laws to bring them in line with modern times.
``It used to be required in Wisconsin that if a restaurant served apple pie it had to serve it with a slice of cheese,'' he said. ``In public buildings there had to be spittoons every couple of feet; now, we ban smoking in all public buildings.
``Why not have the statute reflect reality?''
 

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