Gambling in the Federal Workplace

Scenario: College basketball teams are playing in their respective league championship tournaments and soon the “NCAA March Madness” brackets will be announced.  Many sports fans are accustomed to placing a friendly wager on a favorite team. Your office colleagues decide to set up a little game. It does not harm anyone, and participation is totally voluntary. Is it permissible?

Answer: While betting a few dollars on sports is often viewed as a harmless social pastime, if done at work it violates the Federal regulations that prohibit gambling for money or property in the Federal workplace.  Predicting teams that will advance in a college basketball bracket purely for fun or picking winners to claim bragging rights in the office are not the types of conduct that generally raise concerns.

Federal rules on gambling prohibit employees from gambling while on duty, or while on government-owned or leased property, unless necessitated by their official duties.  These restrictions apply not only to Federal employees, but also to members of the public at large, contractors, vendors, and exhibitors when on GSA-controlled property.  The rules are found at 5 CFR section 735.201 and 41 CFR section 102-74.395. (CFR = Code of Federal Regulations)

Violations of the regulations may be cause for disciplinary action by the employee’s agency, which may be in addition to any penalty prescribed by law.

The only authorized exception is for activities and games that take place during the time period of the annual Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), in accordance with Executive Order 12353.  However, CFC raffles are not synonymous with gambling when conducted in accordance with part 950 of title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations. 

Legally defined, gambling requires 3 elements:

  • A game of chance,
  • Consideration for the opportunity to play the game, and
  • An offering of a prize. 

A game of chance includes, but is not limited to, a raffle, lottery, sports pool, game of cards, the selling or purchasing of a numbers slip or ticket, or any game for money or property.  Consideration includes a participation fee, a wager of money, and something of value in return for the possibility of winning a reward or prize.  A prize would include a monetary award, or a tangible or intangible item.  Examples include meals, drinks, administrative leave, gift certificates, tickets to events, or cash. 

In addition to the OPM and GSA regulations, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), Policy for Personal Use of Information Technology Resources, HHS-OCIO-2006-0001, section 5.4.3 (2/17/06), prohibits the use of government equipment, such as computers and e-mail, for illegal gambling activities.  This includes related e-mails sent from a personal account if done using a government computer.

Violations of this policy may be cause for loss of use or restricted use of government equipment, disciplinary action, or financial liability. 

Note that the Randolph-Sheppard Act which covers the existence of the convenience stores on campus permits them to sell state lottery tickets.

Updated: 2/19/13