Is Your March Madness Bracket Legal?
March Madness wouldn't be the same if we weren't all filling out brackets, hoping against hope for a perfect bracket. To say the odds are against us is an understatement. Jeffrey Bergen, a mathematics professor at DePaul University, crunched the numbers and found the chances of filling out a perfect bracket are 1 in nine quintillion.
While there is no perfect bracket this year, plenty of you are still in the race to win your office pool. But are you keeping it legal? It's not to late to ensure you wrap up this year's pool with your legal t's crossed and i's dotted.
Chas Rampenthal, General Counsel of LegalZoom, gave me some tips on how to ensure your bracket challenge is on the up and up:
The organizer can't take a cut. I know - you've spent your hard-earned time wrangling your group and getting everything set up, but all money collected must be distributed according to the rules for the pool. So yes, that also means you need some rules. And like any good lawyer, I must encourage you to put those rules in writing.
All players must be of legal age. State gambling laws vary, but in most states players will need to be 21 or over.
Report all winnings. Since April 15th is right around the corner, it's important to keep in mind that all gambling winnings must be reported to the IRS. Rampenthal also warns, "Keep this limited. Frequent office pool wins getting reported to the IRS is likely not the attention your company wants!"
Everyone must be on equal footing. This should go without saying, but everyone in the pool (including the commissioner) should have an equal chance of winning or losing.
Keep it old school. Although you may want to set up a pool with colleagues all across the country, it's best to keep things on paper and avoid the web, says Rampenthal. "Even if the website is temporary, it can be classified as online betting. That’s why the companies that help you set up pools online specifically mention that they can’t be used for gambling."
Check state laws. If your pool involves money, you're better off safe than sorry - check your state's gambling laws. Although Rampenthal says being charged with running an illegal office pool is a low risk, he believes it may be increasingly policed.
"For example," he said, "in 2008 the FBI issued a public warning to Facebook users who were using the social networking site to set up gambling brackets during March Madness. The warning reminded users that online gambling is illegal in the U.S., especially if organizers profit from it."
And it's not just those of you participating in office pools who need to be careful - it's also those of you who own the businesses where these pools are taking place.
"Even though the risk of prosecution is low, employers need to be conscious that March Madness pools can pose a larger liability than they may be willing to accept," said Rampenthal.
"This is especially true for employers who own the property where the workplace is located. The owner of the premises where gambling is conducted is subject to the same criminal liability as the organizers and participants whether or not he or she is involved in a single bet."
So, before you make any payouts this week, double-check you're keeping it legal. Good luck to those who are still in it to win it!