Is Selling Football Squares Illegal? In Some States, Yes

Are football squares illegal

It’s the Super Bowl and your friend is hosting a party with tons of food, drinks, and other friends. A football squares pool is put together and you buy a couple boxes, joining in this friendly game of chance. Are you breaking the law by playing Football Squares? Probably not but the person running the football pool might be!

In most states, playing football squares with friends or co-workers is not illegal since it falls under the classification of social gambling. If you are selling football squares though, not just playing, it may be illegal depending on your state’s law and if you are making money on it.

There are a couple of things to look at to determine whether selling Super Bowl Pool squares is illegal or not. Depending on your state, running a football squares pool is illegal no matter what. For states where it is legal, each state has its own rules but it is generally OK to sell squares if you are playing with friends or co-workers, everyone has an equal chance of winning, no one is making a profit, and the pot is $2000 or less.

Even if your state frowns on you selling football squares, just like a friendly game of poker among friends, it is highly unlikely they would know about your game and even less likely that they would care enough to bust your operation.

Said Columbus Ohio attorney Kurt Gearhiser “Even today, which is mind-boggling to me, there is a misconception with some people that this is illegal gambling. It’s my opinion that … not only is it innocent, but it’s fun for everybody, and everybody does it.”

Yes, I’m talking about Football Squares, also called box pools or football office pool or Super Bowl boxes. This is the fun game that you play with your co-workers or at a football party where people buy squares and depending on the actual football game, you can win based on the last digits of each teams’ score. Yes, that game could be considered an unsanctioned private lottery and could be illegal. Hard to believe, but true.

Is Your Football Squares Illegal? Things To Look At

watching football with friends

For playing among friends or co-workers, you are generally fine to play football squares. Where it starts to become more of a question is when you play in a public establishment or online, whether anyone is profiting from the game, or if the stakes are high. Here’s a few questions to determine if your football squares game could be illegal.

  • What state are you in? Each state has its own laws when it comes to gambling. Since football squares is a game of chance and you’re betting on the outcome of that game, it’s considered gambling. If you’re participating in an office pool or playing squares with friends, that’s considered “social gaming” and 31 states allow that, completely or in varying degrees. If you play at an establishment or with other people you don’t know, that’s probably considered sports betting and only 19 states allow for that. If you’re playing online though only 13 states allow for online gambling. The big exception for most states is if the football squares pool is for a good cause, specifically a charity or church. With the exception of just 4 states, charitable gaming is allowed in all states. Scroll down for information specific to your state.
  • Where are you playing? If you running an office box pool or selling squares at a football party (your house, or someone you know), that’s considered “social gambling” or “social gaming”. Most states allow this or will look the other way. However if you are playing football squares at a local bar, as a public establishment, that would not be considered social gambling even if that bar was “Cheers”. Local enforcement could break up the fun and there could be penalties. If you are playing at fundraiser or charity event, you are probably fine unless you’re in Hawaii, South Carolina, Tennessee, or Utah.
  • How old is everyone? The age of each game participant could be a concern if you have players that are under 21. Most states have a minimum age requirement of 18 to play the lottery. Since football squares is generally considered a private lottery, anyone playing that’s under age could cause legal concerns to the owner of the house or business.
  • Are you playing online? If you are playing football squares online, that’s considered online gambling and there are some concerns with the Interstate Wire Act of 1961. Recent court cases have ruled in favor of online sports betting, basically saying that according to the 10th Amendment, states can decide for themselves. However, with that being said, if you are playing in a state that does not allow online gambling, or are hosting a game with participants in states that don’t allow online gambling, you could get in trouble.
  • Is someone profiting? If you are taking a cut from selling football squares, or are charging an entry fee beyond the cost of each square, the game probably doesn’t fall under the “social gambling” and would instead be considered “sports betting”. That may still be legal in your state but to keep it friendly, all money collected should go into a pot with all the proceeds being distributed to the winners of the game based on the payout rules.
  • Is it for a charity? As mentioned earlier, if you are running football squares as a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization or church, it’s probably legal unless you are in one of the four states listed below that don’t allow it. While these exceptions were originally had raffles and bingo in mind, it applies to football squares as well, usually as a 50/50 payout where half of the proceeds go to the charity and the other half is paid out to the winner or winners. With the legal question largely not an issue, football squares is an excellent fundraiser option.
  • How much is each square and what are the payouts? For many states, there’s a limit to what is considered a friendly game of chance, for states that allow social gambling. Typically a pot of $2000 or less is considered OK but this can vary from state to state. If you are running a 10 x 10 football grid with 100 squares, that comes out to be max sale price of $20 per square.
  • Are the numbers picked randomly? To be considered social gambling, no profit can be made and everyone has to play on equal footing. This means that the numbers that correspond to each team’s score must be picked randomly after all squares have been purchased. Quick aside here, if you’re looking for a good way to randomly pick numbers, check out my random football squares number generator that shuffles the numbers automatically for you.
  • Are you selling squares or just playing? There’s less risk if you’re just playing football squares instead of selling football squares. While rare to get penalized for football squares, it does happen and it’s usually against the person or business hosting the pool.

Please keep in mind that this is just a guide and that you should consult a local lawyer if you’re worried about the legality of your game of football squares.

Which States Can You Play Football Squares Legally?

If playing with friends or co-workers, you can play football squares legally in most states. If you are playing online or with strangers though (with the exception of charity events), football pools are illegal. The table below summarizes each state’s stance on gambling. A few quick definitions of the terms used below:

  • Football squares falls under the “charitable gaming” classification if it’s a fundraiser for a nonprofit or church.
  • “Sports betting” includes public establishments that may or may not profit off your football square picks and where you would play against people you don’t know.
  • “Social gaming” refers to games of chance with people that you know, either friends or co-workers, where nobody is making money on the game itself.
  • And then “online gambling” refers to online games or playing with other in different states.
  • Each states have limits on when and how football squares is considered “simple gambling” – if you violate those, you may be at risk for a possible penalty.

This information is from the LetsGambleUSA site and you should consult a local attorney or review the laws in your state if you have further questions.

AlabamaYesNoYes No Misdemeanor
AlaskaYesNo Yes No Misdemeanor
ArizonaYesNo Yes No Misdemeanor
ArkansasYesNo No No Petty
Washington, D. C.YesNoYesNoFelony
New HampshireYesNoNoYesMisdemeanor
New JerseyYesYesYesYesMisdemeanor
New MexicoYesYesYesNoMisdemeanor
New YorkYesYesYesNoMisdemeanor
North CarolinaYesYesNoNoMisdemeanor
North DakotaYesNoYesNoMisdemeanor
Puerto RicoYesNoYesNoMisdemeanor
Rhode IslandYesYesNoYesMisdemeanor
South CarolinaNoNoYesNoMisdemeanor
South DakotaYesNoNoNoMisdemeanor
West VirginiaYesYesNoYesMisdemeanor
Is Football Squares Legal In My State?

Do I Need To Worry About Football Squares Being Illegal In My State?

Yes and no.

You should review whether football squares is legal for your state, specifically for how you are participating in the football squares game. There is a chance, although small, that you could get penalized if your football pool goes against the law in your state. Usually that punishment is just paying a fine but it could include jail time if you were organizing the game or collecting the money from selling squares.

One thing to think about though if you are joining an online football squares pool is that you could technically be leaving markers of illegal behavior on the internet and that could later negatively affect a background check. Also, if the contest host doesn’t pay out the winners as promised, there would be no legal recourse since the game wasn’t technically legal in the first place.

police officers at the door

However, just like playing poker for money at your house, even if your state doesn’t allow it, it’s small potatoes and most law enforcement have better things to do than bust your illegal football squares game. And just like speeding, there are a lot of people that do it but only a small percentage are caught or punished.

Personally, I live in a state that does not have legal social gaming but I’ve never worried about it since I’ve always played the game with friends or co-workers, it’s just for a small amount ($1 – $5 per square) and all the money collected goes directly to the winners. Even if the local law enforcement knew about our friendly game, they wouldn’t spend the time and energy to break up our game. It’s all just for fun.

Said one police spokesman, “I’m not chasing small office pools. We have far more important things to do.”

If you wanted to participate in a charity-run football squares pool, as long as you don’t live in Hawaii, South Carolina, Tennessee, or Utah, you shouldn’t have anything legally to worry about and you could help raise funds for that organization.

What Could Happen To You If You Get Caught Selling Football Squares Illegally?

If you did get caught selling football boxes, depending on your state, you could get charged with a petty crime or misdemeanor (the District of Columbia can charge a felony) and would have to forfeit any gambling proceeds (the “pot”), pay small or large fines, or have any of the furniture or equipment used for gambling seized. Refer to the table above which also includes the penalty for getting caught in each state. Note that these penalties generally only refer to the individuals that organize the gambling.

Usually though, if the police show up at your door and catch you playing football squares for money, they would just give you a warning and shut down the game, directing you to return the money that each player paid.

What If You Get Busted?

If you do get busted and receive a penalty, you should find a good criminal lawyer. They can make the case that you were just participating in a social game and might be able to reduce or even eliminate any punishment.

Other Risks Or Things To Think About

In additional to possible legal issues, you should also run across the following issues:

  • If you are being too pushy with selling football squares, some employees could complain and say that a ‘hostile work environment’ has been created. This would especially be true if you are the boss.
  • Since there’s no legal contract in place, if the organizer doesn’t payout the winner or winners, you can’t legally go after them. There’s always cousin Vinnie though…
  • If you’re playing with friends online, PayPal and Venmo are not technically allowed to take payment for buying football squares. Note: this would also apply to wagering on season results for fantasy football!

Final Thoughts

More and more states are legalizing social gambling. If you live in a state where it is already legalized, you can play football squares with your friends or co-workers without worry. However, if you’re in a state that doesn’t allow it, if you still wanted to play football squares, and wouldn’t have any issue. Just know though that there is a small risk that you could get in trouble and I would recommend lowering your risk by keeping it friendly: just play squares with people you know, keep the stakes low, and don’t try to make any profit it off it.

Aaron Day

I played football in high school but love the game even more now that I'm older and don't have to run laps. Although watching a perfect pass get threaded between defenders is poetry to me, not everyone is into football. That's why I love Football Squares - it's a fun game that everyone can enjoy.

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