March Madness is here, which means March Madness pools are too. But while your fun office or dormitory pool may seem harmless, chances are you're breaking the law.
The truth is, the majority of office pools are illegal. The FBI estimates that at least $2.5 billion is illegally wagered each year on March Madness, more than the Super Bowl, according to the NCAA.
Despite its illegality, most people will continue with their pools. Why? Because to be quite honest, the long, complicated laws surrounding office pools vary from state to state. And basically nobody wants to be the person to pursue violators of long, complicated laws that vary from state to state -- especially when so many Americans are breaking those long, complicated laws that vary from state to state.
There are exceptions of course. Like on Monday, when 23 people were charged with illegal gambling, and possible possession of firearms, in Georgia. Or when police arrested a man in New Jersey in 2010. But then again, his pool sounded ridiculous:
...worth $837,000 in 2009....8,000 entries from around the globe -- men and women sending in $100 for a chance to win that huge pot. The players included prominent sports broadcasters, New Jersey state troopers, dozens of lawyers and...[allegedly] the agents for Tiger Woods and other PGA Tour golfers.
For the most part though, you're probably going to be OK, according to Marc Edelman, a law professor at Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College.
"There's just so much of this going that it would be nearly impossible to detect everyone, and if they did detect everyone that is technically in violation, nearly half of America would be facing criminal charges," Edelman told The Huffington Post.
Edelman explained that gambling laws themselves are complicated and vary from state to state. Many states actually allow recreational gambling based on three conditions: that all gambling is done within the state's borders, it's amongst friends and the organizer doesn't take a cut. But even still, other states differ on which of the above conditions they include in their laws. And even further still, some states have additional amount threshold requirements (so put away those Benjamins).
And because of all these legal complications, as well as the amount of people betting on the tournament, Edelman says that state and federal government simply doesn't have the resources to keep up.
"Unless somebody is bringing a pool to the police attention or the IRS notices an unusual gain on someone's tax returns, the government is not going to investigate March Madness pools," he said.
So, just keep the wagers small, and to be extra careful, don't be the person who organizes it, because while most laws allow bettors to make bets, it's a whole different story for those running the show.
Oh, and no snitches.