Bracket Busted: Workplaces brace for ‘March Madness’

published in The Oklahoman | March 12, 2014

With the start of March Madness just around the corner, numerous workplaces around the nation are already gearing up for the 2014 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament with great excitement. Brackets are being filled out and office pools – whether officially sanctioned by the employer or not – are being established. But are these office pools legal?

According to McAfee & Taft labor and employment attorney Philip Bruce, who was interviewed by The Oklahoman for an article titled “Bracket Busted: Workplaces brace for ‘March Madness’”, such pools are technically illegal under Oklahoma state law. Depending on how the pool is conducted and if it is sponsored by the employer, it can also violate multiple state and federal laws. “Realistically, these pools are so widespread that these laws are rarely, if ever, enforced when it comes to low-wager office pools,” said Bruce. “But if an employer has an anti-gambling policy then, like any other policy, it should enforce it fairly and consistently. Picking and choosing what policies the employer enforces can lead to other problems down the road.”

For employers who don’t have anti-gambling policies and are willing to run the risk of prosecution, Bruce recommends they limit the betting to small amounts and make sure all participants completely understand the rules. Alternatively, he suggests employers get creative with how they structure their pools. One idea is designate that all funds ultimately go to charity, with the bracket winner donating his or her winnings to a favorite charity selected from a pre-approved list of nonprofit organizations. Another idea would be to not require an entrance fee or wager, but instead award the winner a non-monetary prize, such as a ‘casual Friday’ of his or her choosing.