Published March 12, 2007
LANSING, Mich. – Filling out your NCAA basketball brackets?
If there's cash involved, technically you're breaking the law in Michigan. And a state lawmaker says that's criminal.
"What makes March Madness unique is that all kinds of people and sports fans of all levels fill out their brackets and enjoy the tournament," Rep. Kim Meltzer, a Republican from Macomb County's Clinton Township, said in a statement. "It's a crime we consider that a crime, and I want to change it."
Meltzer plans to introduce legislation that would decriminalize participation in an NCAA tournament office pool.
Under current Michigan law, placing as little as $5 in a tournament pool could be punished with up to a $1,000 fine or a year in jail. The law is rarely — if ever — enforced, at least for the typical office pool.
Police agencies and prosecutors say they have bigger things to worry about than small-stakes pools based on the tournament, whose 65-team field was set to be announced Sunday.
"It would have to be so sizable, and so blatant, that you feel forced to do something," said Kim Warren Eddie of the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council. "That is atypical."
Rusty Hills, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Cox, said typical NCAA office pools would be "way, way down the list" of the office's priorities.
Meltzer's bill could help more clearly define what should draw authorities' scrutiny and what shouldn't.
Her proposal would exempt NCAA college basketball tournament brackets from the definition of gambling under Michigan law. The maximum allowable entry fee would be $20 and the pool could not exceed 100 people. The revenue from the pool could be divided only among its participants.
NCAA tournament office pools are increasingly popular in Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S. NCAA surveys suggest more than 10 percent of Americans participate in them.
A few years ago, the FBI estimated that more than $2.5 billion is wagered on the tournament each year. The vast majority of the wagering is outside of the legal Nevada sports books.