For football fans in Connecticut, it doesn’t get any better than this — Patriots and Giants in the Super Bowl. With loyalties evenly divided in this state between the Giants and Patriots, interest in the Super Bowl will be at an all-time high. (My allegiance has always been with the Giants, particularly since Robert Kraft’s tease of moving the Patriots to Connecticut in the late 1990s).
And with such interest and enthusiasm, friendly wagering among friends will no doubt follow. But what happens when those people want to bring such wagering into the workplace in Connecticut? The short answer is "Player Beware".
In Connecticut, gambling and wagering is prohibited by various state laws, including Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 52-553 and 52-554. There is no clear exception for "workplace" bets, or small bets. According to the statutes, a bet is a bet, regardless of where it is placed. (The obvious exceptions to this general rule are the Indian casinos in the state — Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.)
However, there is one well-worn exception to the "no gambling" rule. Specifically, Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 53-278b states that people (not companies) are:
exempt from prosecution and punishment under this subsection for any game, wager or transaction which is incidental to a bona fide social relationship, is participated in by natural persons only and in which no person is participating, directly or indirectly, in professional gambling.
Thus, the language appears to create an exception to the idea of professional gambling — if there is a "bona fide social relationship." Would workplace relationships qualify for this exemption? That’s obviously an open question. Some might quality; others clearly won’t. As the Office of Legal Research for Connecticut’s General Assembly stated in August 2007:
The law does not define “incidental to a bona fide social relationship”; the legislative history of the law does not indicate the legislature’s intent in enacting the exemption (see House and Senate debate attached); and we found no controlling Connecticut court ruling on the meaning of the term as it pertains to gambling.
For employers, this exception does not apply however. Clearly, by referencing only "natural persons" (meaning people, not "corporations"), the law is intended to only protect individuals, not employers, from prosecution. Thus, company-sponsored Super Bowl office pools would appear to be out. (That goes for Oscar Award wagering too.)
But what about the smaller, employee initiated ones? Again, the statute’s language focuses on "social relationships". A few people wagering may appear to be better than a 100-person office pool. However, there is no "sure bet" that a small office pool among peers will pass muster under review. And thus, "Player Beware" is the surest answer to this.
Is there any real likelihood of prosecution? Probably not. It does not appear to be a priority for enforcement. But for employers in the state, that doesn’t mean it should promote such pools either. Having a clear and established policy on gambling (that would include, for example, a prohibition of company computers to help run such a pool) may be a good start to avoiding further issues down the road.
For background on office pools in general, some posts have already gotten a jump start on the topic. John Husband, of the Colorado Employment Law Letter, has a fun article on the subject here. Despite lawyers’ tendency to be cautious on the subject, Husband reminds us that office pools can be more than simply money:
As with many aspects of employment law, there is no clear-cut rule regarding workplace gambling that will fit every company and every situation. Office pools, Oscar pools, and group lottery tickets often constitute significant ways that managers build camaraderie and teamwork and relieve employee stress.
Perhaps, over the next two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, instead of worrying about office pools, employers in Connecticut can have fun with the topic. Nothing in the law prohibits Super Bowl parties, and displays of team spirit in the workplace. Imagine a workplace "rally" where employees can cheer on their favorite sport with the employer giving away football-related gifts. That certainly would build workplace morale. Enjoying the time leading up to the Super Bowl is something that I think all football fans in the state can agree on.
UPDATE 1/30: Attorney General Richard Blumenthal recently chimed in that he viewed office pools as okay, so long as the house did not profit from it. “Office pools are generally legal unless they’re done for a profit by the person organizing it,” Blumenthal said. “In other words, if there’s a house, so to speak, or an organizer takes a cut (then it’s illegal).”