Lynne Curry: Gambling in the office is usually a bad bet

THE WORKPLACEFebruary 14, 2014 

Q. One of our employees bet on the Broncos and lost heavily in a Super Bowl betting pool. I learned this when he came to me for an advance. Because this employee has several times come to me for advances and often complains he's broke -- throughout the entire Christmas season -- I'm frustrated and wonder if I could offer advice.

Also, your Saturday column about the Super Bowl worried one of our managers about legal risks. You said social gambling is legal if it takes place inside someone's home. What about when it happens in the workplace?

A. Although co-worker betting pools can be fun, workplace gambling is often a bad bet.

Sometimes, as in your workplace, someone who can't afford to lose the money does. At other times, the winner's teasing of the loser results or a winner's inability to collect from losers who lack the cash can result in lasting hard feelings. Occasionally, a reformed gambler winds up having his past addiction reignited, leading to a downward spiral that may be covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act as Amended.

Here's what employers need to realize.

Employees who want to gamble will -- whether on the Super Bowl, presidential elections, the World Series or when the ice melts off the river.

Gambling is generally illegal in Alaska, AS 11.66.280. While Alaska gambling laws allow social gambling, attorney Chuck Dunnagan notes that "this exception doesn't cover workplace gambling, only social gaming which takes place in a home and in which the 'house' takes no income, has no house player, and no house bank exists." At the same time, says Dunnagan, "There is little or no enforcement of the law on routine individual sports bets, and modest individual wagers on sports events rarely are prosecuted."

This means "if two employees bet dinner over the outcome of the Seahawks-Broncos game," says Dunnagan, "it was good clean fun and against the law even if it happens in virtually every workplace. Employers and employees take on increased risk as bets get larger or if they are placed during work hours on company computers or if it's a sports pool in which the winners split the proceeds. Other problems surface when employees ask other employees for money. That situation can become disruptive."

Dunnagan suggests that while many employers handle these matters on a one-time basis, they may want to consult their general counsel and draft a policy. Dunnagan offers as an initial draft policy, "Gambling is illegal. XYZ Corp. does not condone or support gambling. Any gambling in the workplace or on working time may result in discipline or discharge. Using office computers, telephones or other company equipment to place bets of any kind may result in discipline or discharge. Making bets with two or more employees on the same event may result in discipline or discharge. Bets with other employees for more than the cost of a (normal) dinner may result in discipline or discharge. Any other conduct involving gambling that interferes with the workplace may result in discipline or discharge."

What if you bet on a coworker's personal or work-related activities? According to Dunnagan, "your betting pool is illegal if the bets or prize have more than a nominal value. Although the risk of prosecution for this type of activity is almost nil, the risk of workplace disturbance can be quite high and even include a form of office bullying."

Risks also increase if a manager collects the money or the winners elect to fund an office pizza party to celebrate their win along with their favorite team's victory or one of the employee's teenagers participate in the pool. The first two situations clearly involve the company or indirectly benefit the workplace "house." The third may add corruption of a minor to the charges should the police learn of the betting.

Finally, managers gamble whenever they give unwanted personal advice; even when it's meant to be helpful, it can be a bad bet.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@ thegrowthcompany.com. You can follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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