Could betting on March Madness land you in jail?

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KEARNY MESA, Calif. – It’s the first day of March Madness and most basketball fans have already filled out their bracket and contributed to an office pool, despite the fact that it’s illegal to gamble in the state of California.

Justin Hoffiman, a huge March Madness fan, talks up his team any chance he gets.

“I’d like Kansas to win it all,” said Hoffman.

But he not just all talk.  Hoffman puts his money where his mouth is.  He says he’s placed more wages in office pools and brackets than he can count, this March Madness.

“It’s friendly gambling,” Hoffman said.  “Typically the pools are $5 or $10 a pop.”

California has loosened the law concerning betting.  In 2010, it eliminated felony and misdemeanor penalties that previously existed for friendly sports betting pools and brackets.

“Technically, it is illegal to have office pools,” said Lt. Kevin Mayer, who is with the San Diego Police Department.  “It could go anywhere from an infraction, to a misdemeanor, depending on the level of involvement.”

An offender, could be fined up to $250.  By taking part in a betting pool with more than $2,500 at stake, the punishment could even include jail time.

“Is it something we’re aggressively going after?  No.” said Lt. Mayer.  “It’s something that is dependent on complaints.”

San Diego Police say they can’t remember the last time they prosecuted anyone for an office pool or bracketing.

So, maybe that’s why so many individuals don’t take the law seriously.

“Legal Shmeagle,” said Hoffman, when asked what he thinks about the law.

Ted Semprini is the co-owner of Players Sports Bar in Kearny Mesa.  He says his bar will not have a pool for March Madness, even though  he doubts law enforcement would try to go after them, if they did.

“The bottom line is, we’re not going to break the law.”  said Semprini.

But Semprini says that won’t stop his customers from placing bets on their own.

“We’re hoping to have 300 poeple coming through the front door tonight,” he said. “I’m going to guess 299 of them, have at least some sort of wager on them.”

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