Gambling, lotteries and office pools illegal

Wednesday , July 21, 2010 - 3:19 PM

Lt. Col. Raymond Rounds - Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

Now that you have lost your shirt in off-base betting on the Super Bowl, the best ice hockey team in North America, or whether or not a female can finish in the top five of a stock car race, protection is on the way from your insatiable habit. It is time for the annual reminder that gambling, lotteries and office pools are not allowed in the workplace at Hill Air Force Base.

Questions regarding the parameters of the prohibition on gambling, lotteries and office pools have been pervasive over the years. The policies and rules with respect to this issue have not changed for decades. "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, (or) participating in a game for money or property ..." (5 C.F.R. §735.201). The Department of Defense has wholly adopted this rule. "A DoD employee shall not participate while on federally owned or leased property or while on duty (for military members, this means, in this context, present for duty) for the federal government in any gambling activity prohibited by 5 C.F.R." §735.201. (Joint Ethics Regulation -- DoD 5500.7-R).

If that were not enough, the Air Force specifically instructs its civilian employees that gambling is prohibited on federally owned or leased property or while in a duty status regardless of location. The instruction goes on to define gambling as participation in office pools.

Within the context of Utah state law, the Utah Constitution prohibits even the Legislature from authorizing any game of chance, lottery or gift enterprise under any pretense or for any purpose. (Utah Constitution, Article VI, Section 27). The definition of gambling in Utah, to be effective April 1, is risking anything of value for a return or risking anything upon the outcome of a contest when the return or outcome is based upon an element of chance and is in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. (Utah Code §76-10-1101). That definition is not materially different from the definition effective up until April 1, for purposes of office pools based on sporting events. Utah makes gambling a misdemeanor crime. (Utah Code §76-10-1102).

Military members should also be aware that participation in an activity where a superior-ranked person may take money from a subordinate in something akin to gambling or an office pool could lead to a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (UCMJ Articles 133 and 134). Supervisors of civilian employees should likewise not be involved in activities where it is even possible that a subordinate's money ends up in the supervisor's pocket.

There have been a myriad of schemes proposed over the years to circumvent what has been a well-established prohibition of gambling and office pools. Well-intentioned plans to have all office pool proceeds go to a charitable organization run into the rule that the federal government will almost exclusively use the Combined Federal Campaign for charitable solicitation. While individuals may think their personal bets between themselves at work may avoid scrutiny, there is always a risk that the number of people involved will expand to be thought of as an office pool, inappropriate workplace activities will be claimed, or superior-subordinate issues will arise. Also, while the activity may not be expansive enough for possible criminal investigation, it would not be in the Air Force's best interests to be known as a place where Utah law is ignored.

Let's take the high road on this concept as the military and its DoD employees always do. Let us not try to test the outside barriers established by law, and work place regulation and conduct. The Office of the Staff Judge Advocate advises: We should try to avoid the appearance of impropriety even though nothing may come of a minor violation. Taking money or anything of value out of the mix of any proposed office pool would go a long way in evading the thought that prohibited gambling is involved.

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