March Madness And Sports Gambling In The Workplace

March Madness and Sports Gambling in the Workplace

The start of the first March Madness season since a landmark 2018 Supreme Court ruling gave states leeway to allow and regulate sports gambling. Many state legislatures are already jumping at what they consider an untapped revenue opportunity. For their part, business owners and workplace compliance professionals are not all exactly jumping for joy – as they see a newly increased risk of overzealous participants and gamblers disrupting the workplace during March Madness.
According to Philippe Weiss, an attorney and President of consultancy Seyfarth Shaw at Work, several potentially worrisome trends are already emerging. Weiss is seeing an unusual increase in pre-tourney client calls for training and messaging assistance in three areas:

• Help reminding those in management that office money pools remain legally risky. According to Weiss: “The Supreme Court justices did not suddenly authorize ‘unlimited office pools with unlimited cash prizes.’ They gave the states the ability (for now) to decide how to regulate sports betting.” Recounts Weiss, “One real estate client called us after several employees planned to dramatically raise the 2019 office pool stakes and even to take a cut, all because they recalled reading somewhere on social media that they now had a green light to do so – courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court.” Irrespective of any state or federal gambling laws, office pools can also create discrimination risks if unwilling or uncomfortable employees are pressured to “pony-up,” explains Weiss.

• Limiting employee lunch/break trips to betting establishments (“sports books”), newly opened since the Court’s decision. In New Jersey and several other states, a number of HR professionals are already seeing mid-day impromptu “betting and beer runs” by groups of employees, with more planned for March. (This trend compounds the concerning “distraction factor” of employees surreptitiously streaming games at their desks. As it is, March Madness is estimated to potentially cost U.S. employers billions in lost productivity.)

• Keeping an eye out for addictive behavior. Perhaps most worrisome, Weiss sees some business owners/leaders notably concerned that increased gambling addiction rates will impact the workplace, given a perceived green light from the Supreme Court to wager more, not less. Over the last four weeks, Weiss has already experienced a 15% uptick in client requests to include possible “employee gambling addiction”-type warning signs in planned workplace management trainings. (These signs, not surprisingly, include excessive interest in betting pools.)

Distracted by Madness

Weiss can also comment on employers’ concern that March Madness 2019 may distract their teams and impact employee work quality or flow – a concern that was expressed by 40% of bosses in a recent survey conducted by Seyfarth Shaw at Work.

While a focus on the college tourney can boost office morale, it should not be a productivity buster, notes Weiss. Weiss has seen bosses successfully manage the madness with a game-plan that responds to (or prevents) four key risk areas:

1. Tournament Trash Talk. Even the most innocent dissing about a college – or regional – rivalry can easily morph into full-on political debate or insults — especially in today’s climate. Train supervisors to appropriately step in at the first sign of staff members mouthing-off in March.

2. Mandatory Madness. Managers should never force their employees to participate or fill in brackets. Even “strong encouragement” by an authority figure will annoy uninterested employees; at worst, it can lead to legal challenges from those with religious or other objections.

3. Office-Managed Betting Pools.  A gambling charge may be practically unlikely – but would be awfully unpleasant. If you really need to host a pool, prizes should be limited to ‘smallish swag,’ such as company-logo wear, or a framed and prominently displayed Office Madness Champion photo.

4. MIA Team Members, Lost to the Madness. Keep an extra eye on attendance and productivity.  Set-up a “Break, Bracket and Burger Area,” so employees are less likely to binge stream games at their desk or, even, at a local bar during the workday (where they may end up binging on more than just the tournament…).