Should I let my employees run a March Madness pool at work?

There was a survey that came out a couple of years ago claiming that around 75% of people did not like lawyers. The people running the survey theorized it was because lawyers only come around at difficult personal times (when you’re getting sued, divorced, or accused of a crime), or to deliver bad news. This is one of those times.

No, you should not let your employees participate in a March Madness basketball pool at work. Unless you’re running a bingo game for a non-profit organization, gambling is illegal in North Carolina. North Carolina General Statute § 14-292 makes it illegal for any person or organization to operate any game of chance or to bet money, property, or any other thing of value on a game of chance. North Carolina uses the predominate factor test in determining whether or not the game being played is a game of skill or chance. If the outcome is predominately determined by superior skill, the game is a game of skill. If the outcome is decided chiefly by luck, the game is one of chance. While this may seem to make a basketball pool legal, North Carolina courts have highlighted a key distinction between players of the games and spectators. Because people who are merely watching the game do not necessarily have an accurate idea of the skills of the people who are playing the game, courts have ruled that the success of a spectator’s wager is dependent on luck, not skill. If you multiply that uncertainty factor by the sheer number of games involved in a basketball pool, some of which are being played by teams the pool participants have never heard of, much less have any idea of their skill, it is clear that a basketball pool would be considered a game of chance under North Carolina law.

Since the pool is illegal your employees are (theoretically) subject to prosecution for participating in it, but that does not end the matter. The statute specifically prohibits anyone from organizing a game of chance, and if the entire operation is being run at your business, you could easily find yourself criminally liable for organizing the pool, or at least as an accessory for the individual who does organize it.

In addition to the possible criminal penalties, there are other good reasons to prohibit basketball pools at your workplace: loss of employee productivity from discussing the games, and in the day of video streaming, your company’s server bandwidth could take a major hit if a large number of employees are streaming the games live on their computers.
While allowing that office pool may be good for employee morale, there are good business and legal reasons to prohibit it at the workplace.

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