Let’s face it, at some time or another we’ve all filled out a NCAA tournament bracket. If you’re doing it for “fun” – e.g. not paying to be in a pool – you don’t have to worry, there is nothing illegal about filling out a bracket. However, most people pay some type of fee to participate in a larger pool of friends or co-workers hoping that their bracket earns them some loot. Is this illegal? Well, if you’re in Ohio – and just about every other State – absolutely, it is considered “bookmaking” and it is an illegal.
The Ohio Revised Code defines “bookmaking” as “business of receiving or paying off bets.” R.C. § 2915.01(A). A “bet” is defined as “hazarding of anything of value upon the result of an event, undertaking, or contingency, but does not include a bona fide business risk.” R.C. § 2915.01(B). Furthermore, R.C. § 2915.02(A)(1) prohibits “[e]ngag[ing] in bookmaking, or knowingly engage in conduct that facilitates bookmaking.” A person “facilitates bookmaking” if they “plac[e] a bet with a person engaged in or facilitating illegal bookmaking.” R.C. § 2915.02(B).
So your co-worker who is responsible for collecting the fees is, legally speaking, engaged in illegal bookmaking. And you, by paying your fee to participate, are facilitating bookmaking. Both acts are illegal. In Ohio, it is a misdemeanor of the first degree carrying a potential jail sentence of six months and a possible fine of up to $1,000.00.
That being said, the likelihood of the police knocking on your door or arresting your entire office is remote. With the widespread social acceptance of NCAA pools, and very minor wagers involved, it is unlikely the state will invest resources in investigating and prosecuting these crimes.
However, if you, or someone you know, are charged with a criminal offense, please feel free to contact the law firm of DeMarco & Triscaro, Ltd. for a free consultation and let us be your advocate.