March Madness: Office Pools Better Left a Spectator Sport for Employers
You don’t have to be a fan of collegiate basketball to know that over the next few weeks, sixty-eight NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball teams will compete in a knockout-style tournament most commonly referred to as “March Madness.” To the victors, go the elite honor of being crowned “NCAA Champions,” and to the millions of people who wager on the games, the privilege of participating in a fast growing tradition – office brackets. However, at what cost?
Various sources estimate companies will lose more than $1.0 billion per business hour during the first week of the annual tournament. Further, depending on the structure of the betting, and the particular region in question, many participants may unknowingly violate state and/or federal law. While regulations vary by state, many jurisdictions have enacted legal exceptions allowing tournament pools to proceed as long as the maximum payout is relatively small and each participant pays the same fee and has the same chances of winning. Consequently, although no bracket betting is void of potential illegality, the more cautious gamblers should, at a minimum, avoid online and high dollar pools and ensure that each participant pays the same fee and has the same odds of winning. Pool organizers should also avoid receipt of any profit or fee for their efforts.
Regardless, while most businesses will inevitably suffer a loss in productivity over the coming days, legal experts agree employers should avoid organizing pools for their staff. Despite the fun likely to be had by all, individuals and entities that organize and administer office pools face a far greater risk of legal repercussions for unlawful gambling activities. While it is unlikely criminal charges will occur, the risks do not outweigh the benefits. As a result, from an owner and/or employer perspective, March Madness is better left as a spectator sport.