RI law: NCAA office pools technically illegal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Just by handing over a few dollars and joining one of the most popular office traditions in America, millions of people across the country may be – at this very moment – breaking state laws.

The tradition mentioned is that of the NCAA Tournament. The annual 68-team frenzy is nicknamed “March Madness” for a reason; it’s just shy of impossible to correctly predict its outcome.

But that doesn’t stop millions of people from trying.

Experts estimate around 15 million people across the country will fill out blank brackets with their predictions and submit them to whoever is running their office’s pool. Those 15 million people, according to estimates, will collectively contribute more than $1 billion in entry fees.

Even though many participants don’t even recognize the tradition as gambling, the small-dollar wagers that will be collected before the tournament tips off on Wednesday are technically illegal in 46 of the nation’s 50 states.

“I didn’t know it was illegal,” East Providence resident Alex Abatecola said Tuesday. “I think it’s a lot of fun.”

In Rhode Island, the state’s general laws outlaw “pool selling” and “bookmaking” – two statutes that bar the “betting on the outcome of a contest of skill, sporting events included.”

A successful prosecution could result in a $500 fine and up to a year in jail, and repeat offenders could be looking at up to five-year sentences.

The four states in which sports gambling is legal are Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana.

As for the just-for-fun college basketball fans out there, it’s perfectly legal in all 50 states to enter a bracket into a competition as long as the contest does not involve an entry wager. This year, billionaire Warren Buffett has made headlines by offering $1 billion to anyone who can fill out a perfect bracket.

The odds of that happening? 9.2 quintillion-to-1.

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