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Betting for bragging rights a March Madness best bet

  • Published
  • By Maj. Nicole Bryson
  • Assistant Staff Judge Advocate
March Madness is well underway, and employees in offices throughout the country are undoubtedly engaging in (mostly) good-natured trash talk, debating whose bracket is most accurate. Usually, once they are already in the thick of things is when someone will stop and ask, almost as an afterthought, "Hey, is this legal?"

That is when our office receives hypothetical and hesitant questions about restrictions on office pools and workplace gambling.

So, here is what you need to know on the issue.

Is there a permissible dollar limit within which Federal employees can conduct an office pool?

The answer in short, is no. While the size of office pool entry fees and prizes are certain to vary widely across the nation, for those working on Scott Air Force Base, entry fees and prizes are capped at zero.

No pooling of assets for cash prizes in games of chance is permissible. For those who think that setting your bracket is not a game of chance, but rather is a game of skill, sorry, pooling is still a no-go.

In Illinois, as in most states, office pools are illegal. Under the Criminal Offenses section of the Illinois Compiled Statutes, "a person commits gambling when he or she knowingly plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value." Such action constitutes a Class A misdemeanor (720 ICLS 5/Art. 28 Gambling and Related Offenses).

"While the state police certainly don't have the resources to uncover and investigate every March Madness-related office pool in the state, this type of violation is something taken seriously within the Air Force," said Capt. Aaron Jones, 375th Air Mobility Wing Legal Office, Chief of Adverse Actions.

Federal employees, civilian and service members, are subject to other restrictions in addition to state laws.

"While on government-owned or leased property or on duty for the Government, an employee shall not conduct or participate in any gambling activity, including ... conducting a lottery or pool, and participating in a game for money or property ..." (5 C.F.R. §735.201).

This regulation has been repeated nearly verbatim in the Joint Ethics Regulation (DoD 5500.7-R). The JER also highlights additional pitfalls for military members noting office-place gambling could constitute violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Military members should be well aware that gambling, or engaging in any gambling-like activity where a superior may take money from a subordinate could constitute a violation of Articles 133 and 134 of the UCMJ.

Does this mean you need take your ball, or bracket rather, and go home? Not entirely.
Employees may exercise and demonstrate their bracketology skills in a friendly, morale-boosting, no-stakes competition for bragging rights.

May the best bracket win.