So you think you know who will win today’s election? Don’t bet on it. Really. It could get you into trouble.
A little-known law makes it a crime to even offer to wager on the outcome of an election. Violators could end up serving up to four months in county jail and paying $750 fines. And should you think that no one ever gets prosecuted, think again: A couple of 70-year-old men found themselves in court more than a decade ago.
Jack Bird and Loft Hollamon had wagered $100 on each of five council races in Camp Verde.
The pair said they hoped that the attention — they even put an ad in the local paper — would help publicize the election.
Well, it got the attention of the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office, which filed charges.
A Superior Court judge threw the case out, calling it “patently unconstitutional.” Judge Richard Anderson called gambling the “favorite national pastime,” with stakes ranging from favors to money.
But the state Court of Appeals, in a 1995 ruling, concluded otherwise.
Appellate Judge Sarah Grant countered that what is bet isn’t the point. What is, she wrote, is that the state is legally entitled to prohibit
wagering “to maintain the
integrity of the electoral process.”
“The Legislature has the right to determine which actions threaten that interest,” she said. “The function of the courts is not to question the wisdom of legislation.”
Grant said prohibiting wagering does not improperly suppress either man’s freedom of expression.
And Grant rejected charges of selective prosecution, saying county attorneys have “broad discretion” in deciding whether to file charges.
Charles Hastings, who was the Yavapai County attorney at the time, said he eventually dropped the charges.
Hastings said by the time the case was sent back to justice court, the two men had probably spent some $30,000 on legal fees, “far more than any fine would have been.”
Hastings said one reason he brought the charges was because the pair had taken out that newspaper ad, urging voters to come out and support each person’s picks so that person would win.
“For obvious reasons, you should not be voting to help people win a bet,” he said.
State elections director Joe Kanefield said the law appears to contain no exceptions.
He said even social bets between friends could land participants in legal hot water, though Kanefield acknowledged he knows of no cases in the eight years he has been handling election law issues.