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It's March again, which means everyone's favorite illegal betting racket is about to start back up. March Madness, with its accompanying office pools, live-streamed games, and potential loss of office productivity, can pose particular problems for corporate counsel. First, betting is widespread, with more than 50 million people taking part in office pools, often in violation of state and federal law. Second, even those who are not betting on games may be watching them at work, leading to extra strain on a company's computer system and lost productivity.
Here are some tips for how best to deal with March Madness without losing your mind:
1. Remember, Most Office Pools Are Illegal.
The Bradley Act makes it unlawful to bet on sporting events, with exemptions for only four states: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana. Of those four exempt states, betting on college sports is only legal in Nevada and Delaware, so unless you're operating out of Vegas or Wilmington, your friendly office pool could be against the law. Offices that don't ban pools outright may lessen their risk of violating the law by making sure there are no monetary bets and that pools don't involve employees across state lines, attorney Philippe Weisse told Inside Counsel.
2. Minimize Risk With Clear Policies.
Consider setting parameters over March Madness activities, such as providing public viewing areas during big games. This can keep employees from streaming games in secret. Have clear policies about employee productivity and make sure to address any drops quickly.
3. Don't Let Your Managers Play Lawyer.
Managers should focus on communicating and enforcing company policy, not trying to explain the law. Gambling laws can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another. Neither employees nor corporate counsel are helped when managers misstate the law.
4. Be Careful With Winnings.
If betting does occur, supervisory staff should not take part. For one, employees may resent it if the pool is won by management. Aside from morale issues, if money returns to the organization, it may raise further legal issues.
5. Pay Attention to Employee Sensitivities.
While some employees may be upset by an office which cracks down on March Madness activities, others may be offended by the perceived promotion of gambling. Gambling may violate certain religious beliefs, for example, or employees may be recovering from gambling addiction.