The perils of betting on sports in the office

The college basketball bracket is one of the most popular office

You’ve just finished filling out the office college basketball
bracket you received from Emma in Accounts Payable.
You’ve done your research, and you are sure that yours is going
to be the lucky one. You are sure that Illinois is going all the
way.
You’ve just finished filling out the office college basketball bracket you received from Emma in Accounts Payable.

You’ve done your research, and you are sure that yours is going to be the lucky one. You are sure that Illinois is going all the way.

So you turn it in along with your money, confident that it will be money well invested. How could you lose?

In a lot of ways – whenever there is money involved, the friendly office pool technically becomes illegal. All states except parts of Nevada have laws against gambling, and in California, betting on sports games through an office pool is a misdemeanor that can carry up to a $1,000 fine or six months in prison.

“NCAA office pools are described as an illegal lottery,” said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for the California Attorney General’s Office in Sacramento. “A lottery has three key elements – offer, chance and consideration. If you eliminated any one of those three factors, it would be legal.”

“I think it is ridiculous,” said Merrille Zimmershead, an attorney in Gilroy. “I think the state has better things to do than prosecute light gambling in the office or among friends. Offices are like family, and I think it is unfair to go after them. But if it is an institute or purveyor of gambling, I don’t think it should be allowed.”

Many businesses have official policies against any type of betting.

“As an institution, we’ve established no-gambling policies at work,” said Vivian Smith, a spokeswoman for Saint Louise Hospital in Gilroy. “Even though it may not be considered gambling, we don’t have any pools or anything.”

Some employees will participate in pools outside of work that include co-workers.

“What they do on their lunch break and after hours is their own business, but we don’t allow it here at all,” said an employee for McCormick Selph, a Hollister manufacturer of devices such as engine starters, who declined to give her name.

There is little chance of getting busted in an office pool, Barankin said. He said he was routinely invited to participate in office pools at a previous position, but no longer gets those invitations in his current job.

“People are doing it across the state and across the nation,” Barankin said. “It is not a law enforcement priority because it would be impossible to enforce. Law enforcement agencies are focused on clearly professional organizations.”

Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Julius Finkelstein said he doesn’t remember prosecuting any such case, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s never happened.

“They’re illegal. If the police bring us a case, we investigate it,” he said. “We have an obligation to enforce the laws. We don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. If the Gilroy police invested a case, then we would file on it. We don’t have our own people going out and finding these cases.”

A survey done by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission in 1999 estimated illegal wagers in the United States were between $80 billion and $380 billion annually. And there are office pool horror stories – take the case of Rick Neuheisel, the former University of Washington football coach was fired after filling out a bracket and betting on college basketball.

But a lot of companies will allow unofficial betting as a way to improve morale.

Alien Technology in Morgan Hill is one of those companies with an official policy against office betting, but it is still tolerated on a small scale.

Angela Perez, who works in Alien’s human resource department, said that office pools were prevalent at her former job but are controlled at Alien.

“When people were pregnant we used to bet when the baby would be born,” Perez said. “We’d put down a dollar on the date. But here we don’t do that because of legal requirements. I wish we would allow it. We tell employees they can do it but can keep it on a low scale. I just don’t want to hear about, because if I do, I have to stop it.”

So if you still want to fill out that bracket, go ahead, but just to be safe, leave the money out of it.

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