Okay, let’s get one thing straight right away: this is NOT a blog post telling you that it’s okay to sponsor an NCAA pool in your office or even suffer one to exist. That’s because I’m a lawyer and, according to federal and (most) state laws, gambling on amateur sports is illegal. Yes, that includes the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 (28 U.S.C. § 3701, et seq.) prohibits gambling on sports anywhere except Nevada (of course), Oregon, Delaware, and Montana. Further, the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, 18 USC § 1084, has been interpreted to prohibit online betting. So the absolute last thing you’re going to see me say in this blog post is, “Go ahead and allow it.” Okay? Not gonna happen.
“So why do a blog post at all?” you might ask. Good question. The answer is that, even if it is illegal, even if federal and state laws absolutely prohibit it, chances are there is going to be some kind of NCAA tournament office pool in your workplace. Approximately $2.5 billion is wagered on the tournament every year, and only about $80 million of that (less than one-half of 1 percent) was wagered legally in a place like a Las Vegas sports book. Some recent estimates suggest 60 million Americans bet in pools made available at—and sometimes even organized by—their places of employment. Here are some tips on how to approach the March Madness sure to happen in the workplace.
- Be Prepared for Reduced Productivity. About half of the games in the initial rounds of the NCAA tournament occur during work hours. Even if you don’t have televisions conveniently placed everywhere in your office, with the prevalence of smartphones, tablet computers, and good old-fashioned Internet websites showing constant updates, you can expect to lose a significant percentage of your workforce’s attention for hours at a time. In study conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., it was estimated that companies would pay as much as $134 million to workers who were not fully engaged (i.e., “watching basketball”) during the first two days of the tournament alone.
- Know the Company’s Line—And Stick to It. Whether your company condones or condemns an NCAA office pool, it is crucial that you determine what the organization’s stance is going to be and stick with it. Are you going to allow an office pool to happen? Okay, say you do. Are you going to allow someone to use company equipment to print out brackets and sign-up sheets? Okay, well, what about the time it takes to manage the tournament. Are you going to allow someone to use work time? Or maybe your workers want to use one of the many free Internet sites to manage the office pool. Will you allow folks to access the Internet sites from their office computers? You need to make sure that the line is drawn—and that your employees know where that line is.
- Don’t Ignore the Risk of Discrimination. Disparate treatment (read: “discrimination”) can pop up in the darndest places. Take, for example, the supervisor who (unofficially) leads an office NCAA tournament pool. If that supervisor happens to have an employee who objects to gambling on religious grounds, it might be very easy for that employee to blame any adverse employment action (i.e., “discipline”) on the fact that he or she may have voiced that objection. Same with the older employee who feels that he or she has to pick up the slack of younger workers who are clustered around the break room’s TV during the tournament’s first round. Whatever the situation, your company must be prepared to deal with office dissenters who don’t consider bracketology to be the ultimate science.
- Keep in Mind—NCAA TOURNAMENT OFFICE POOLS ARE LARGELY ILLEGAL. As I said at the beginning, I am not going to tell you it’s okay to allow an office pool to take place. Granted, police and the FBI generally have better things to do than go arresting cubical dwellers and warehouse workers for putting $10 in an office pool. But if someone were to complain, or if the stakes were to get out of hand (as in 1991 when three Wall Street employees lost their jobs for betting more than $300,000 on the NCAA tournament), it may draw the attention of the authorities. So please, think twice before officially sanctioning any event at work where money changes hands.