Are NCAA basketball office pools legal?

By Guest Contributor
March 17, 2011

– Stephanie Rabiner is a contributor to FindLaw’s Free Enterprise blog. FindLaw is a Thomson Reuters publication. This article originally appeared here. –

March Madness is here and ready to distract your employees. They will be filling out brackets this week, crumpling them up, picking No. 5 seeds for upsets.

And they’ll be gambling the whole time, too.

You may have let it slide during the Super Bowl, but with office pools cropping up everywhere, you’re probably wondering whether you have a legal obligation to shut them down.

It depends.

Though federal law frowns upon the practice, state law varies as to whether office pools constitute illegal gambling. Local law probably has something to say about it, too.

Texas permits office pools so long as they’re private and the organizer doesn’t make any cash running the pool, but Illinois considers office pools to be misdemeanor gambling. They’ll push that up to a felony if caught twice.

It’s clear that you need to check in with your state’s gambling commission (or whichever entity is tasked with regulating this area) to determine the scope of state law. It may be forbidden, or you may have to institute a per-person expenditure cap.

If office pools are illegal, it would be wise to shut them down. By providing the location in which the pool is conducted, you or your company may be criminally liable as an accessory. There could be civil penalties as well.

Even if office pools aren’t illegal, it might still be wise to shut a pool down. Besides being a documented drain on productivity, office pools can cause some hefty human resources problems. How can you fire one employee for gambling on the job and not everyone engaging in the pool? And what are you going to do about that one employee who can’t handle a little good-natured ribbing?

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