Washington State’s Laws About Workplace Gambling

Washington State’s Laws About Workplace Gambling

Workplace GamblingOne of the best things about autumn is the return of football season!  And what football fan can resist the fun of friendly wagers amongst co-workers on the outcome of a game?

Better yet, how about a formal football pool, so everyone can join in and have a chance to win?  It builds employee camaraderie, morale, and just brings some good old fun into the workweek.

Have you ever stopped to think if gambling in the workplace is a good idea?  What are the potential downsides?  Is it even legal?  (If your business is in Washington State, the answer is:  probably not!)

Workplace gambling can interfere with productivity:

Permitting gambling in the workplace comes with some inherent risks.

For one, the productivity in your office can take a big hit. After all, it takes time to create a gambling pool, communicate it to others, collect the money, and monitor the outcomes.  You can weigh whether you think this blow to productivity is balanced by a bounce in employee morale and camaraderie.

Today gamblers don’t have to go to a casino to gamble.  Even if you aren’t running an office wager, during the workday, employees can access gambling websites on their company computers.  Whether it’s betting on a sports event such as March Madness or the Super Bowl, or it’s accessing online poker sites, employees can waste hours during the week gambling.  Employees who are not participating will have to pick up the slack for their nonproductive counterparts.

The impact of gambling addiction on the workplace:

Gambling addiction is a real problem in the United States.  Washington state’s Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling reports that 2 – 4% of adults in our state are problem gamblers.  You may very well employ a problem gambler and not know it.

When companies sanction gambling in the workplace, no matter how innocuous it may be, it could be feeding and encouraging someone’s gambling problem.

  • Skeeter Manos, a Lakewood police officer, embezzled money from the fund set up for the families of the murdered Lakewood officers.  Why?  To pay for his gambling addiction.
  • Ernest Milewski, a union official, stole union foods and assets from the health care benefit program.  Again, to pay for his gambling addiction.
  • Anita Guzzardi took almost a million dollars from her employer, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in order to pay her gambling debts.

A brief internet search of embezzlement and gambling will fill your screen with story after story about the impacts that employee gambling can have on a business!

Problem gambling leads to money problems, which can in turn lead to embezzlement.  I’ve listed just a few examples above, but the issue is real.  Your business needs to have good protocols and cross checks to ensure the safety of company funds.

Workplace gambling can create disputes:

When gambling is allowed in the workplace, it can create very troublesome disputes.

What will you do if an employee complains that their bet wasn’t paid off properly?  Will you or your human resources staff mediate the dispute between employees?  What if the gambling wasn’t legal in the first place?  Are you now in the middle of resolving complaints about activities that should never have occurred in your workplace?

As an HR professional, my advice is that if you choose to allow some type of legal gambling in your office, you must protect your business with a company gambling policy:

  • Describe what type of gambling is allowed and not allowed in the office.
  • Tell employees that the activities cannot interfere with productive work time.
  • Outline how disputes are to be resolved.
  • Reiterate the discipline that applies to violations of the policy.
  • Be prepared to apply the policy uniformly, across the board.

Is gambling at work illegal in Washington State?

Is it even legal for you to allow gambling in your company?  Under Washington State law, the answer is yes — but mostly no.

Pretty much all types of workplace gambling violate Washington state law.  Commercial businesses cannot even hold raffles, even if the money is given to charity!

Does this mean your football pool is finished?  Not necessarily.  State law does allow a limited type of “sports wagering.”  Typical of state law, though, it’s complicated and very specific.

Here are just a few of the rules you need to follow:

  • You are allowed to have one sports pool board for a specific event.
  • The board must be divided into 100 squares (no more, no less).
  • You can charge up to one dollar per square, so at the most, your pool can be worth $100.
  • Each purchaser signs his or her name on their purchased square.
  • The pool is closed prior to the athletic event, and a prospective score is assigned by random drawing to each square.

That’s it!  That’s all you’re allowed to do!  This is the only type of workplace gambling that is permitted in the state of Washington.  (The rules were put into place in 1973 and apparently haven’t changed since that date.)

The wrap-up:

Is it likely that the Washington State Gambling Commission will bust your business for having an illegal football pool?  Probably not.  But now that you know what is and isn’t legal, you’ll have to decide for yourself and your company how that football pool aligns with your corporate ethics.

Legality aside, whether or not your company is based in Washington, allowing gambling in the workplace is a decision that businesses should make with careful thought.  Harmless betting can enliven an otherwise boring workday and boost employee morale, but allowing gambling at work is not without its risks and complications.