Office betting pools: Is it time to crack down?

This is prime office-pool season. You better believe someone in your  workplace organized a 100-square points grid for betting on the Super Bowl. Next month, the wagering shifts to March Madness, with bracket picks on the NCAA  basketball tournament.

The NCAA basketball tournament, which starts March 15, has turned many a workplace into a mini-Las Vegas, as employees feverishly study the stats that may mean victory in the office betting pool.

Should you worry? A workplace betting pool is like that five-mile-per-hour buffer above the speed limit: While it’s technically illegal, it rarely draws the attention of law-enforcement entities.

Your organization probably won’t face legal trouble for tolerating small betting pools among employees, but you could face other problems, including declining productivity and potential theft from a compulsive gambler.

In fact, 81% of HR professionals responding to a 2013 Society for Human Resource Management survey said their organizations have neither written nor unwritten policies addressing office pools.

Tough Talks D

Only 7% have ever disciplined anyone for placing wagers at work.

You don’t need to crack down on minor pools, but you should write a policy on habitual gambling at work. The real danger of office bracketology lies in its effect on compulsive gamblers who may be on your payroll.

Sports gambling, especially on college sports, is illegal in almost every state. Managers shouldn’t officially sanction gambling pools. Keep the amounts wagered low. Remind employees not to use company Internet resources.

Keep things under control by developing a written policy that defines gambling, spells out prohibited behavior and explains the disciplinary consequences of violations.

Questions to ask when developing your policy: Are all forms of gambling prohibited? Are there exceptions for sports pools, raffles or company-sponsored events that support a charity? Are violators subject to termination?

For employees with a gambling addiction, an NCAA basketball pool could trigger big problems.

Advice: You’ll do more harm than good by cracking down on minor pools in the workplace. The bigger threat comes from compulsive gamblers who sap the organization’s time. Studies say between 3% and 5% of people are compulsive gamblers.

Consider providing training to supervisors on recognizing signs of problem gambling and on handling the situation. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, problem gambling is “behavior which causes disruptions in any major area of life—psychological, physical, social or vocational.”

Let employees know about these sites if they worry they may have a gambling problem: