March Madness Pools Don’t Intersect With A Legalized Sports Betting Environment

Written By Juan Carlos Blanco on March 15, 2018
March Madness Pools

It’s become a spring ritual at offices around the country over the years. One steeped in almost as much tradition as engaging in a cringeworthy, alcohol-fueled faux pas at the Christmas party, or swiping an unsuspecting co-worker’s lunch from the fridge.

March Madness pools.

The ultimate “wink-wink” form of “illegal gambling”, these beloved NCAA tournament brackets, which potentially afford even the lowly mailroom clerk bragging rights over the big bosses for a change. A productivity-sapper to be sure, but “illicit” activity as well?

Technically illegal, but positively thriving

Under current law, technically, yes. Office pools fit the definition of pool betting in approximately 37 states according to a legal analysis commissioned by the American Gaming Association (AGA), which also estimates only 3% — approximately $300 million — of the cash being plunked down on March Madness this year will be done so through Nevada sportsbooks.

A decision in Murphy vs. NCAA (formerly Christie vs. NCAA) that struck down the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 on a national basis progressively changes that configuration by a significant margin.

Six states have now passed sports betting bills, and approximately 15 others (a fluid number to be sure) are currently deliberating one. That’s already plenty of jurisdictions in the proverbial on-deck circle, waiting to start taking their swings at raking in some sports betting-generated tax revenue.

Given that billions of dollars were wagered during this year’s NCAA Men’s tournament through office pools, local bookies and offshore betting websites, there’s clearly no shortage of March Madness dollars presumably awaiting future sportsbooks in states that legalize single-game wagering in a PASPA-less environment.

Office pools vs. sportsbooks – mutually exclusive?

But under this type of scenario, what becomes of the beloved office pool?

Ironically, these annual rites of spring between colleagues, friends and family would still be considered illegal activity wherever they’re already deemed as such (unless new sports betting laws also expressly legalized pool betting) — albeit one that essentially carries zero risk of prosecution, and rightfully so. There is no “house” component in the activity, and it’s a self-regulated competition willingly engaged in by consenting adults – as a practical matter, there’s nothing to legislate there.

Moreover, conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that the “bracketology” tradition would survive the option of a local sportsbook as a legal alternative for March Madness action, for a couple of reasons.

  • For starters, there’s a chance that in many states, sportsbooks will only offer the opportunity to wager on single tournament games or engage in parlays, but not actually run a pool in a traditional sense. Therefore, the family and friends/college buddies/office bracket format would retain its unique charm.
  • And that directly ties into a second reason, namely, the camaraderie and competition that is inherent – and exclusive – to playing alongside those who one has familiarity with. That component is naturally absent when playing against the house in a sportsbook.

Think of the differences often cited between private season-long fantasy leagues and daily fantasy sports tournaments – the latter which are played against thousands of other unfamiliar contestants – and you have a comparable frame of reference.

And ultimately, that friendly rivalry component may serve as the most compelling argument of all for the indispensability of the traditional March Madness bracket.

After all, for those with a little competitive blood, there’s nothing like eating someone’s lunch – literally and figuratively.

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Juan Carlos Blanco

Juan Carlos Blanco has served as a freelance writer for a wide variety of online publications and websites, with an intensive focus on fantasy sports. Juan has provided analysis and comprehensive coverage of the MLB, NBA, NFL, CFL, AAF and AFL while also reporting on news and developments in the daily fantasy sports and online gaming industries.

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