Gambling in the Workplace

By: Melanie Geddes

With the ‘big game’ right around the corner, followed by March Madness, office betting pools are going to be surging around the workplace. Gamblers wagered an estimated $4 billion on the 2015 Super Bowl and another $3 billion on the NCAA tournament – and spent an unknown amount of work hours on “bracketology,” resulting in an untold amount of lost productivity.


Is there a group around your office that regularly takes up money to buy a collective bunch of lottery tickets? This is an often overlooked form of office gambling but it can present the same productivity issues. And what would happen if they actually won? Online gamers in the office? They could very well be participating in the newest form of workplace gambling. And it presents a real concern for employers in terms of lost productivity.


There’s a generally held belief that office pools and other types of gambling in the workplace do not cause a disruption or have an adverse effect on employee productivity. And, although such gambling is against the law, the risk of criminal prosecution is considered too far-fetched to prohibit it in the workplace. Therefore, employers tend to overlook friendly wagers and pools in an effort to promote a fun, friendly atmosphere.


Nevertheless, company management should consider potential problems that accompany workplace gambling and, at a minimum, not participate and/or avoid officially sanctioning the behavior. Some employees may find it fun to bond over intra-office bets and money-making gambling opportunities, but not all employees will share that perspective. Those employees may feel excluded or maybe even offended by the ‘not exactly legal’ activities. And, although the primary focus may be on having a good time, employers may be unknowingly contributing to an employee’s gambling problem.


Gambling disorders affect an estimated 1-3% of adults, according to the National Center for Responsible Gaming. An estimated 15% of adults with a gambling problem don’t seek formal treatment for their condition, so the estimates of people affected by the addiction may be quite low. So you never know who or how many around the office may have a serious problem with gambling.  


The ADA specifically excludes compulsive gambling from the definition of a disability. Therefore, employers are not liable, under the ADA, for discriminating against or failing to accommodate a compulsive gambler. However, an individual who suffers from a gambling disorder often suffers from another psychiatric or addictive disorder that is covered by the ADA.
Lost productivity and the promotion of unhealthy lifestyles for select employees can have major repercussions in the workplace, and for these reasons, workplace gambling should be discouraged and even prohibited. Employers should consider establishing a written policy addressing the topic, which defines conduct associated with it and what disciplinary steps may be taken against employees who violate the policy.