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Ask the Hotline | Managing Workplace Gambling

February 27, 2018
The Super Bowl may be over, but March Madness and the Boston professional sports teams like the Celtics and Bruins generate significant discussion and gambling at work. What are our options to manage it?
It’s mid-February and we are coming upon high workplace-gambling season. College basketball’s March Madness playoff brackets are looming, and playoff appearances by the Bruins and Celtics means many workers will be discussing the games and perhaps gambling at work. 
Many employers tolerate employee gambling as a harmless distraction. And for most employees and employers, it is. March madness brackets create excitement, a diversion from the humdrum of the long winter. The single-pool proceeds in most workplaces are relatively small, ranging anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to perhaps a few thousand.  
The FBI says that office pools in total amount to upwards of $2.5 billion annually.
What does workplace gambling look like? Betting pools, on-line betting, cell phone calls, and texting are some of the common methods employees use to gamble during the workday. As the event gets closer, the intensity of the gambling may spike. That may mean a significant reduction in job performance by some employees. 
Notwithstanding the Massachusetts casino law and the state Lottery, most forms of private gambling are illegal in the commonwealth. Enforcement may be spotty, but employers may want to consider the merits of establishing a no-gambling policy. 
If you are concerned about workplace gambling or feel that your current policies are insufficient, here are some questions to consider:  
  • Does gambling disrupt the workplace? Is the gambling behavior interfering with production? Are arguments between employees over games and gambling taking place? Is bad blood festering over unpaid debts? Is there a spike in wallet or purse thefts among co-workers? 
  • Are you seeing betting take up an unreasonable amount of work time? Are workers leaving their workstations throughout the day to discuss gambling? Are they gathering during work time to discuss betting options?
  • Are gambling employees asking co-workers or the company for loans on wages or from 401Ks? Are there delays in repaying debts?
  • Are your supervisors running the gambling process, causing a potential conflict of interest within the organization?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you may want to consider establishing a gambling policy.
There are several options:
  • Adopt a no-gambling policy. Define gambling or the type of behavior that is restricted. Employers are free to establish such a policy. The key factor, as always, will be how consistently will it be enforced by your supervisors. Determine what constitutes appropriate disciplinary action against any employee who violates the policy. 
  • Consider adopting a limited no-gambling policy. One method would be to prohibit gambling above a certain dollar figure or value. Such a policy would recognize that small-stakes gambling such as a few dollars or a lunch is reasonable and will be tolerated, even though it remains illegal under state law. The problem with this approach is determining what a reasonable dollar value threshold is and how to enforce it.
  • Establish a clear definition of what is acceptable and unacceptable gambling. While perhaps easy to define, this has the same enforcement problems as number two above. 
It is unlikely your company would face civil or criminal liability for a small-time gambling pool.  However, if the betting pool’s operation makes some employees feel uncomfortable, it may make sense to end the practice as soon as you become aware of it - or before it gets going.
Whatever policy you choose to adopt, make sure it is one that is practicable and enforceable for your workplace. 
Finally, if you have employees with a gambling problem you may want to refer them to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for assistance. If you do not have an EAP that offers this service, the following programs may be helpful. 
Please contact the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277 if you have any questions about this or any other HR-related matter.
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