HR Hotline: How Far Can Employees Go in Running a Sports Office Pool?
Q: Game on! That’s the cry among excited employees looking forward to organizing an expanded office gaming experience during the college basketball March Madness season. They say a U.S. Supreme Court case in May 2018 cleared the way for office pool entrepreneurs to go big. Exactly what is the state of affairs on this?
A: The message to your employees: Hold your horses.
The high court did indeed strike down a federal law prohibiting states from getting into the sports gaming business.
But before states can get involved in sports betting, they must enact a statutory and regulatory oversight framework, and Connecticut has yet to do so.
Private individuals will remain shut out of setting up gaming enterprises unless done under a properly enacted state law.
Connecticut has started down the path toward legalized sports betting, but as is typically the case, passing laws is not a fast-track sport.
In this case, however, the prospect of added tax revenue from expanded gambling is an incentive to get a bill through the legislature in this year’s General Assembly session, which runs from Jan. 9 through June 5.
And while Connecticut already has a significant gaming infrastructure in Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, two of the world’s largest casinos, the practicalities and politics of working with these existing state gambling/entertainment giants has actually slowed the process of establishing state sanctioned sports gaming in Connecticut.
In spite of this, however, individuals may still pursue their interest in the college basketball tournament by participating in an office pool, albeit at the same relatively low key, local level as has been the practice in previous years.
While it is clearly within an employer’s prerogative to ban such activities from the workplace, enforcing such a ban may be unrealistic, and sometimes an unenforceable policy is worse than none at all.
Notably, the Connecticut State Police periodically issues an advisory regarding their enforcement plans for Super Bowl Sunday, focusing (as you might expect) on safe, sober driving, but also including the following comment regarding gambling:
“In Connecticut, football pools are legal as long as all of the money taken in for the pool is given back to the winners participating in the pool. No percentage or cut can be taken by the person organizing the pool for his/her time and/or expense of running the pool. Note: No betting pools of any kind can be run in any establishment or bar selling alcohol.”
Options for Employers
Many businesses take the approach of disclaiming any official company involvement, prohibiting employees from using company equipment or resources in setting up pools, or from engaging in office pool activities on work time.
Businesses may further require that any money raised from joining such a betting pool voluntarily organized by employees must all be paid back out to the winning participants with no “profits” to the organizers or the company.
As an alternative, some companies have taken on the task of organizing a company pool, but without any monetary investment required from participants, offering instead modest prizes to the winners such as gift certificates to a local store or restaurant, paid for by the company.
If you consider the latter strategy, participation should still be voluntary, respecting those employees who may have personal, moral, or religious objections to any form of activity that could be construed as gambling.
Office Pool Team Building
If interest in participating is fairly high, the entire situation might even be turned into a great employee morale booster, prompting an increase in enthusiastic interaction among disparate groups of workers that might otherwise not have a common-interest topic of conversation.
According to a 2018 survey from OfficeTeam, when asked how they feel about celebrating March Madness at work, 46% of employees polled said they love keeping up with sports and bonding with coworkers, while only 21% said they’d rather just focus on work and not celebrate sports.
Team building concepts can often be found on strange playing fields, possibly leading to some work-related discussions and new business opportunities.
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