Is It Legal to Bet on the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

From your office pool to online betting to fantasy leagues, we'll help you place your bets legally.

The 2018 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is set to begin on March 13. Even if you don't typically follow basketball, you're probably filling out your brackets for the office pool — why not throw a few bucks in the pot? The thing is, you and your coworkers are probably breaking the law.

Last year Americans completed an estimated 70 million NCAA tournament brackets. With an average bet of $29 per bracket, the American Gaming Association estimated that we'd spend $10.4 billion on March Madness bets overall, according to ESPN.

Where Is Sports Betting Legal?

In the United States, it is illegal to bet on sports in all but four states — Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana. The Supreme Court will hear a case this year to decide whether betting should also be legal in New Jersey.

Is It Legal to Bet on Sports Online?

You've probably seen websites advertising that they take bets on all kinds of sporting events, including NCAA basketball. Is that legal?

Online betting is often a front for other criminal activity, such as money laundering, extortion, and racketeering.

Those websites are typically based in countries outside the United States, where laws about offshore transactions are more generous. As the New York Times details, placing bets online typically requires complicated schemes for transferring funds. There's no guarantee that you'll ever see your winnings from these sites.

What's more, an analysis of federal convictions in illegal gambling found that online betting is often a front for other criminal activity, such as money laundering, extortion, and racketeering.

Is It Legal to Bet on Fantasy Sports?

Once a kind of Dungeons & Dragons for sports geeks, fantasy sports are now big business. FanDuel and DraftKings, the industry's big players (no pun intended), are valued at well over $1 billion each.

In fantasy sports, fans draft players onto their virtual teams, and the fan whose collection of players performs the best wins the pot. These scenarios were once played out over the course of a season. But with the advent of daily competitions and an increased number of competitions and bets, fantasy sports have become very lucrative.

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In the eyes of the government, what separates fantasy betting from traditional bets? It all comes down to the "skill" of the person making the bet. Assembling your fantasy team takes skill (the argument goes), while regular sporting events are decided by chance. However, that argument sounds pretty flimsy when you look at the actual odds of winning. "[T]he top 100 ranked players enter 330 winning lineups per day," according to Bloomberg. "The remaining field of approximately 20,000 players tracked by Rotogrinders wins just 13 times per day, on average."

So the bottom line is that in the United States, sports betting is only legal in very specific forms. If you want to keep your nose clean, head to Vegas to place your bet. Alternatively, you can enter something like ESPN's Tournament Challenge — where you'll win a gift card instead of cash.

Are you going to place a bet on the NCAA Basketball Tournament this year? How will you do it, and more importantly, who are you picking? Let us know in the comments!

Stephen Slaybaugh
DealNews Contributing Writer

Stephen has been writing for such national and regional publications as The Village Voice, Paste, The Agit Reader, and The Big Takeover for 20 years. He covered consumer electronics and technology for DealNews from 2013 to 2018.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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