Filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket in Arizona? You could be breaking the law

Plenty of Arizonans have been filling out NCAA Tournament brackets this week. The Arizona Department of Gaming cautions that pools can be illegal. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, March Madness has returned and sports fans across the country have put pen to paper hoping to fill out a perfect bracket, the odds of which are nearly impossible (about 1 in 9.2 quintillion).

In Arizona, sports betting is still illegal. However, state law does allow for social gambling, which includes bracket challenges or tournament pools among friends and family.
Within reason.

According to the Arizona Department of Gaming, four rules must be followed when placing a bet on the tournament or participating in a bracket challenge:

  • Gambling can’t be conducted as a business, meaning the host can’t benefit financially unless they are also participating.
  • The host must pay out all the pool money to the winner or winners.
  • Participants are the only people who can win.
  • Participants must play on equal terms with each other.

The ADG also warned of signs of illegal gambling. When betting on the tournament, fans should be watching out for participation fees, such as “suggested or voluntary donations,” hosts keeping a percentage of the pool, required minimum purchases for participation such as food or beverage purchases, unequal odds and underage participants (younger than 21).

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“Although sports wagering is currently illegal, Arizonans are still able to be a part of the action and participate in legal betting options,” said Ted Vogt, director of the ADG. “As long as individuals follow state law, March Madness bracket tournaments commonly played among friends and family can be completely legal.”

It is estimated that 36.7 million Americans plan to fill out a bracket, according to a survey done by the American Gaming Association, an 8% decrease from 2019. The survey also found that about 30.6 million Americans plan to place a traditional bet on the tournament, a 72% increase from 2019.

That increase can be attributed to the increased availability of legal sports betting options across the United States. This year, about 73.6 million more Americans are able to legally bet on the tournament compared to two years ago.

“The sports betting landscape has changed dramatically since 2019,” said Bill Miller, President and CEO of the AGA. “As a result, tournament betting has transformed. With more legal, regulated options than ever before, millions of customers now have safer ways to enjoy all the fun and suspense only March Madness provides.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Connor Morman expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. He is reporting for Cronkite Sports this spring.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Marlee Smith expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in organizational leadership. Smith is the social media coordinator for ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.