7th Circuit reverses dismissal of NCAA illegal ticket-lottery suit

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed a proposed class action case claiming the National Collegiate Athletic Association operates an illegal lottery to sell tickets to certain sporting events to go forward.

Judge William T. Lawrence of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, had dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice on the NCAA’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 9(b). Plaintiffs Tom George and others applied for tickets to NCAA men’s basketball games through NCAA-owned websites. In order to apply for tickets for the men’s Final Four, applicants may submit a single application with up to 10 entries and the full face value of the tickets plus a $6 non-refundable handling fee. Applicants can only win once and would get at most two tickets. Refunds would be sent to applicants according to whether they won or not, but the $6 handling fee on each entry would not be returned.

The plaintiffs alleged the ticket-distribution system constitutes an unlawful lottery because there are far more applicants than tickets available and the handling fee bears no relation to the cost of running the lottery. They also sued Ticketmaster and settled on most of the charges.  

In Tom George, et al. v. National Collegiate Athletic Association 09-3667, the majority on the 7th Circuit found distinction between the instant case and Lesher v. Baltimore Football Club, 496 N.E.2d 785, 789 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986), on which the District Court relied to dismiss the case. In Lesher, all applicants submitted the face value of tickets sought plus a handling fee. Losers were reimbursed the full amount, plus the fee. The Lesher court held the process wasn’t a lottery because no prize had been awarded and ticket winners got nothing of greater value because losers received a full refund.

But in the instant case, the NCAA kept the handling fee. The plaintiffs also alleged the existence of a prize not present in Lesher: the scarcity of the tickets makes those tickets far more valuable than the cost to purchase.

The plaintiffs have alleged all elements of a lottery: they paid a per-ticket or per-entry fee (consideration) to enter a random drawing (chance) in hopes of obtaining scarce, valuable tickets (a prize), wrote Judge John W. Darrah of the Northern District of Illinois, who is sitting by designation.

The majority also found the District Court erred in holding that the doctrine of in pari delicto barred the plaintiffs from seeking relief from the court.

“Indiana law makes it unlawful to conduct lotteries or otherwise gamble knowingly. As alleged, the NCAA’s act of knowingly conducting an unlawful lottery demonstrates a greater degree of fault than Plaintiffs’ act of unwittingly entering that lottery,” wrote the judge.

Since the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged the NCAA operated an unlawful lottery, the 7th Circuit reversed the order on all counts and remanded for further proceedings.

Judge Richard Cudahy dissented, finding the instant case indistinguishable from Lesher.

“There are other reasons for excluding this process of ticket distribution from being classified as an illegal ‘lottery,’” he wrote. “One of these is the statutory exemption for ‘bona fide transactions that are valid under the law of contracts.’ This is a very open-ended exemption that is easily applicable to this device -- incidental to allocating scarce tickets for popular sports events.”


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  1. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

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  3. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  4. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.

  5. (A)ll (C)riminals (L)ove (U)s is up to their old, "If it's honorable and pro-American, we're against it," nonsense. I'm not a big Pence fan but at least he's showing his patriotism which is something the left won't do.