It’s March and NCAA Madness is in full swing. Cindy Rella, your office manager, is now a water cooler fixture bragging about her imminent victory in the office basketball bracket.  Sitting at your cubicle bitter that your team lost in the first round, and even more bitter that Cindy, the office sports idiot, used the best looking team jerseys to pick last year’s Cinderella team, you wonder out loud whether the office pool is even legal.

In the vast majority of states, including Texas, gambling is a crime that is defined so broadly in most penal codes that office pools are very likely illegal. Reports are that in 2008 nearly $2.5 billion changed hands in March Madness office pools and that over 25% of the American workforce participated in NCAA bracketology. NCAA tournament pools, like most other forms of gambling, are probably, technically illegal in the vast majority of states and could result in misdemeanor charges, perhaps even jail time.  So what is the risk of Cindy going to jail for betting $20 on North Carolina and this years Cinderella team?  Probably pretty remote.

Tilting the Scales Suggestions. Pay out all the winnings. Make the pool individually managed, not corporate. The bigger risk may be to your company if it explicitly or implicitly permits such gambling.  Most companies have policies to prohibit office gambling.  Allowing office pools for the NCAA basketball tournament, Super Bowl or even for the birth weight of an employee’s child may very well be technical violations of such office policies.  The selective enforcement of certain policies might even affect a company’s credibility on other workplace policies, for example harassment, theft, etc., and might expose a company to uncomfortable questions, possibly unnecessary lawsuits.  Accordingly, while most companies “wink” at office pools and judge the legal risk and lost productivity as being outweighed by the camaraderie and esprit de corps that such pools foster, this is another one of those company bets where the potential risk should be thoughtfully weighed.