Super Bowl 50, March Madness, and the Workplace Betting Pool

February 9, 2016

Would it surprise you to learn that Nevada is reporting a record amount of gambled money from Super Bowl 50 this year?

It’s true. Monday afternoon, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reported a record-breaking $132.5 million was waged on the Bronco’s victory. That’s up from $119.4 million from a couple of years ago. Plus, the game wasn’t the only thing people were gambling on anyway. Every year, more and more fun prop bets pop up for viewers’ enjoyment. Just as a few minor examples:

  • How long will the National Anthem be?
  • Who will win the coin flip; will the winner of the coin flip win the game; (and new this year, because of the crazy coin flip debacle of a few weeks ago) will the coin flip have to be repeated?
  • Will Left Shark make another half time appearance?
  • Will [insert a player here] score a touchdown?
  • And perhaps most importantly, will Peyton Manning retire in order to focus more on Papa John’s and Nationwide commercials now?

And let’s face it: Nevada wasn’t the only place a little gambling was going on this weekend.

Workplace Betting

There are times throughout the year, where many businesses throughout the country join together in comradery in order to gamble. This might be a simple office pool or a complete fantasy sports league. It could be open only to employees or expanded to include friends and family. It might be an employee-thing or it could be a promotion for customers.

And think about all the things you could be betting on at work:

  • The Super Bowl
  • March Madness
  • The World Series
  • The Stanley Cup
  • The winner of the final season of American Idol
  • The next president of the United States

This is great because many people believe that office pools can unite a workplace, boost morale, and maybe add some levity to the office that will make everyone get back to work harder than ever.

So why not have one?

Before you go creating spreadsheets on the odds, let’s look at some possible potential legal pitfalls that might affect your decision.

Is Workplace Betting Legal?

For starters, let’s address the million dollar question (not literally. As far as I know, there has been no money placed on the outcome of this question. And now my disclaimer is done…) Is workplace betting even legal?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is that it might not be. Outside of Nevada, gambling and betting is strongly limited. While this is determined at the state level, there is a good chance that if you look at state law, you will find something that limits your ability to place monetary bets on any type of event.

However, in reality, the likelihood of you being charged for a small infraction such as this is admittedly low (though if someone is getting blamed, the odds are in the favor of liability going to the employer, not the employee. Just saying.) Plus, if the monetary value of the bets are small, even if you are unlikely found of a crime, the chances are that the price is small to negligent.

Take a look at California’s law on this topic:

Under California’s Penal Code, gambling can be a felony or a misdemeanor (section 337a). However, there is an exception (336.9) to this statement for a betting pool where all of the following criteria is met:

  • The bet was not made for profit (other than what any participant could win.);
  • The pool isn’t run online; and
  • No more than $2500 is being risked.

If the above criteria is met, it is still technically illegal. However, instead of even a misdemeanor charge, if convicted, it is just an infraction with a maximum penalty of $250.

To sum it all up, there is a chance that office pools and bets are illegal, but the odds of you getting charged are admittedly small especially if you make sure that the winnings are low.

However, before you encourage, support, or even allow any such conduct in your business, take a few minutes to reflect and answer the following questions:

  • What exactly are the laws on this topic in your state?
  • Small odds or not, is it worth the risk?
  • Can you have the bets without any monetary gain (i.e., have people win for the sake of winning instead of to win money)?

While company betting pools might be a way to build team spirit, there are other ways to do that as well. Keep that in mind as you make your decisions.

Discrimination Concerns

If you were to consider the topic of legal issues surrounding workplace betting, you’d probably ask the overall question of whether or not it was even legal at all. However, did you take into account any discrimination issues?

The most obvious possible discrimination issue surrounding this topic is compulsive gambling addicts. Is a gambling addiction a disability covered by the ADA? If it was, you might potentially have some reasonable accommodation concerns with hosting a workplace betting pool. However, that is something we can immediately eliminate. The ADA specifically lists compulsive gambling as not a disability.

(Of course, disability or not, you may want to think twice about office pools if you know a worker(s) has a gambling problem.)

Anyway, now that we have that addressed, let’s move on to more subtle discrimination issues surrounding workplace betting.

Remember when I said that workplace betting pools and fantasy leagues can build a kind of comradery in the office? Well, what if the opposite was true?

Workplace betting can be exclusory. For example, think about someone whose religion prohibits any form of gambling. Suddenly, that individual is unable to participate in a “team-bonding” activity. Similarly, if the pool is not open to all workers, then individuals who are not invited can feel left out.

On a simply practical side, this isolation can hurt business by causing a divide in company morale. However, on the more daunting side, this issue can lead to legal concerns.

Let’s say that those individuals not invited to the pool are all of a specific race, gender, or other protected class. That on its own might look bad. However, a more likely scenario is that this could be used as an example of a larger concern.

Imagine an employee is trying to prove that you discriminated against her because she is a woman. While on its own her exclusion from an office pool might not be enough (unless perhaps it was a company-sanctioned pool offered exclusively to male employees), it could be the straw that broke the camel’s back if presented with other harming facts.

In other words, be careful to not isolate employees if you do offer workplace pools or fantasy leagues.

A Special Word on Fantasy Leagues

Along with workplace betting pools, many workplaces participate in fantasy leagues. Fantasy leagues are often considered separate from gambling because there is some amount of skill involved in order to pick and manage a team.

However, do not forget that the world of fantasy sports leagues is in a whirlwind right now with many states already banning it, considering banning it, and highly regulating it.

If fantasy leagues are going to be allowed in your workplace, you might want to do all of the following:

  • Know the laws on fantasy leagues in your state.
  • If using a service, make sure that the one selected is legally compliant.
  • Do not sponsor or run the league yourself. Instead, let it be employee run.
  • Have it be used for fun, not monetary gain. Limit the amount of money that is allowed to be placed on the game, and perhaps make it where money is not placed on the outcomes at all.
  • Limit the amount of time the game can be played during working hours. Even if this doesn’t stop any potential liability, it can save you a lot of unproductive work hours from employees spending time playing the game.

Also remember, while fantasy sports leagues might have their own special set of problems aside and apart from betting pools, they also share the same set of problems as well. In addition to the bullet points above, when you are considering allowing fantasy leagues in your business, make sure you keep the other sections above in mind as well.

Creating a Policy and Sticking to It

Alright, it is too late for you to do anything about Super Bowl 50. If you allowed bets to reign free at your business, then cool. If not, also cool. However, before the next big event (March Madness anyone?) take everything I have said into account.

Sit down – perhaps with legal counsel – and decide if it is in your best interest to allow fantasy leagues or office pools to continue (or begin) in your place of business. Now, here is the important part:

Once you have made up your mind, and no matter which way you have made it, make sure you have a written policy in place that sets forth your decision. If you decide that you do not want to allow these types of events, then you definitely want to make sure that is clear to employees. However, even if you do decide to allow it, you want to make sure there are guidelines in place that will make sure any bets or leagues stay within certain limits (for example, you might want to limit the amount of money employees are allowed to wager or else state that any prize must be non-monetary) as well as make sure the event does not allow too much wasted time at work. But no matter what, you want to make sure employees are clear on what your expectations are on this topic.

All that being said, who wants to place a wager on the results of today’s New Hampshire primary?




Ashley Shaw is an experienced Legal Writer with years of experience. After receiving her JD, she worked for years in a corporate environment writing on business and employment law topics

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