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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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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