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District Attorney ending 15-year office tradition of illegally gambling on NCAA tournament

The office of District Attorney Ben David serves New Hanover and Pender counties.
Benjamin Schachtman
The office of District Attorney Ben David serves New Hanover and Pender counties.

On Friday, District Attorney Ben David confirmed his office is ending a time-honored tradition -- gambling on the NCAA basketball tournament. The move came after David was asked by WHQR for comment about the annual ritual which, while widely popular, is also illegal in North Carolina.

Sports betting is a near-ubiquitous part of office culture but, while it’s hardly a serious felony, gambling is against the law, a Class 2 misdemeanor in North Carolina. That’s the same category as reckless driving, carrying a concealed firearm without a permit, and simple assault — offenses punishable by a maximum of 30 days of imprisonment and up to a $1,000 fine (for those without prior convictions).

But, despite that, David confirmed that for the last 15 years, prosecutors and other staff members and their families have completed brackets for the NCAA tournament, paying a $5 entry fee.

David defended the practice, writing in an email that “many of us attended big basketball schools and it’s been a way to build camaraderie in the office and takes the edge off of very stressful jobs.”

David’s officehas prosecuted Wilmington-area sweepstakes parlors and David said he routinely declines to allow so-called casino nights for non-profits and school fundraisers. But he says his office uses a “rule of reason approach,” enforcing the law only in instances where public safety is at risk or considerable profits are being sought. David said he was not aware of a single instance of an office bracket being prosecuted.

“I will continue to use the resources of this office to pursue violent and career criminals, not co-workers, friends, or neighbors who are completing basketball brackets," David wrote, adding, "It is my sincere hope that the constituents remain confident in our ability to represent them and appreciate this for what it is: a fun way for team members to blow off steam."

David said his office will discontinue the entry fee and, effectively, play for fun until state lawmakers explicitly allow bracket betting.

That could happen in the near future. A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the door for individual states to allow more gambling, and last month North Carolina officially greenlit two book-making operations on tribal land in the western part of the state. And, according to a recent report by WRAL, legislators are keenly aware that the state stands to reap hundreds of millions in revenue if it more broadly legalized gambling.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.