It's a sure bet there will be plenty of gambling on next month's Super Bowl. But even friendly wagers such as buying squares on a grid are illegal in Illinois and most other states. Law professor Christine Hurt discusses sports betting and its potentially costly implications in an interview with News Bureau business and law editor Jan Dennis.
Are office Super Bowl pools, such as buying squares that pay off based on scores at the end of each quarter, illegal in Illinois?
Yes. Illinois law states that anyone who "makes a wager upon the result of any game, contest, or any political nomination, appointment or election" commits gambling, a Class A misdemeanor. In addition, Illinois residents who wager on any sports contest via a website on the Internet or who place bets via telephone or email are violating federal laws. Therefore, any kind of Super Bowl wager or NCAA tournament pool is prohibited in Illinois.
What are the possible penalties and are only organizers subject to prosecution or everyone who chips into the pool?
In Illinois, a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and a jail term of less than one year. Repeat offenders may be convicted of a Class 4 felony, punishable by a term of one to three years and/or a fine of up to $25,000. Both gamblers and organizers are subject to prosecution; however, if an organizer of a Super Bowl pool receives bets from five or more bettors that exceed $2,000, then the organizer may be prosecuted for "bookmaking," a Class 3 felony punishable by a term of two to five years incarceration and a fine of up to $25,000. In addition, organizers of pools run the risk of unhappy bettors bringing a lawsuit to recover losses. Gambling contracts are void, and participants may sue to recover triple the amount that was lost.
Does law enforcement typically enforce laws against social gambling or turn a blind eye to friendly wagers?
Although I would never encourage someone to violate the law, state prosecutors with scarce resources do not seem to place a priority on social gamblers who are not otherwise causing trouble or breaking the law. Sports gambling is the most popular type of gambling in the United States, and the amount of illegal sports wagers in a given year has been estimated at $380 billion. Although some of this gambling is organized by professional gamblers, much of this gambling is conducted by persons with a pre-existing social relationship. Both federal and state prosecutors are interested in prosecuting the former type of gambling, however. In particular, the federal government has recently launched high-profile prosecutions against owners and officers of online sports gambling websites.
Have there been efforts to legalize office pools and other social wagers in Illinois or other states?
Currently, no state may attempt to legalize social sports betting without running afoul of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a federal law. Only states that had an office pool exemption in 1991, such as Virginia, Colorado and Iowa, may treat this type of gambling as legal. Sports gambling is generally legal in Nevada. Because of concerns about the integrity of sports in the U.S., sports gambling is one type of gambling that has received federal regulation and attention. As recent congressional investigations into the use of steroids in major league baseball remind us, the public has a great interest in both college and professional sports and in keeping these sports fair and free from controversy. Interestingly, Congress recently exempted fantasy sports from federal bans as long as winning is not dependent on the outcome of any one contest or the performance of any one player.