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Employee Gambling in the Workplace: How to Keep It Under Control

November 8, 2022
Employee Gambling in the Workplace: How to Keep It Under Control

Lotteries with ballooning jackpots lure millions of people into grocery and convenience stores to buy the “lucky” ticket. Then, there are the playoffs of major sports teams and final competitions that are too good for bettors to pass up. Add online gambling to the mix, and people have one more temptation to rob them of their money… and time at work. Experts agree that gambling is essentially a harmless activity, even in the workplace. If betting and gambling don’t interfere with job performance or productivity, employers, especially small businesses (SMBs), may have nothing to worry about. But employers must intervene if these activities start causing productivity to slip or discord to break out among workers.

The definition of gambling

Most people think they know what gambling is. But they may be surprised at what activities fall under a universal definition. The National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) defines “gambling” as “an activity in which something of value — usually money — is risked on the outcome of an event where the probability of winning or losing is less than certain.” The list of gambling activities includes:

  • Bingo
  • Card playing
  • Casino games (i.e., poker and roulette)
  • Informal bets on games of skill, such as golf, between friends
  • Internet gambling on casino games, poker, and sports
  • Lotteries
  • Office betting pools on sports
  • Racetrack betting on dogs and horses
  • Slot machines

These activities show up in the workplace, aided largely today by technology.

Gambling while working

Are your employees gambling or making bets at work? If you’re unsure, experts at the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF), an Australian-based organization, say you should assume they are. Here’s why:

  • Opportunities for betting are common in the workplace, and technology makes engaging in these pastimes easier than ever.
  • Employees use smartphones, computers, and tablets at work to browse the Internet, shop, and do other nonwork-related activities. So, don’t be surprised if workers use these devices to bet on the job.
  • As the fresh “new kid on the block,” online betting is another enticement for workers to play slot machines on their office computers.
  • Informal betting pools are hardly new in the workplace and will likely continue. Employees who want in on the chance to win big have been pooling their money to bet on the Super Bowl, college basketball playoffs, baseball‘s World Series, and other sports competitions.

Gambling is a way for employees to have fun and bond with coworkers, but at what cost? And is it even legal?

The culture and cost of gambling

Sports betting, or gambling, in the workplace, is illegal in various states, not yet legal in a few, and restricted in others. Employers must know the rules in their areas of operation to avoid violating the law.

Sports betting also is a big enterprise. Legal bets on the 2022 Super Bowl totaled nearly $180 million. That figure might have been much higher if illegal bets had been factored into the total. From fun and games to addiction When gambling changes from a fun-filled activity to a costly, out-of-control habit, it’s an addiction. NCRG defines a gambling addiction as “a persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior that disrupts personal, family or vocational opportunities.” The center calls a gambling addiction a pathological disorder that, if left “unchecked or untreated,” leads to serious health, financial, and social complications for the addicted. Statistics on addicted gamblers show that:

  • About 1% of the general U.S. population has or had a pathological gambling problem.
  • 3% more have had gambling problems but haven’t been diagnosed with a pathological addiction.
  • Groups that are more likely to become addicts are identified as college students, adolescents, minorities, and casino employees.
  • 96% of people with gambling disorders also suffer from addictive or psychiatric disorders.

Employers may see betting in the workplace as generally harmless and overlook the activity. But they can address problematic betting and addiction when it occurs and prevent it by spotting the signs.

Signs and symptoms of addiction

Kindbridge, a provider of behavioral services, identifies common signs and symptoms of gambling, or gaming, addiction as:

  • Asking others for financial help because of huge money losses due to gambling.
  • Constantly thinking about gambling and planning the next gaming opportunity.
  • Falling deeper into debt.
  • Feeling restless, anxious, or irritable when not gambling.
  • Gambling to relieve stress, depression, and anxiety.
  • Having to bet increasing amounts of money for a continuous rush of excitement.
  • Lying to friends and family to hide extensive gambling.
  • Missing out on educational or work opportunities because of gambling.
  • Ruining key relationships.
  • Stealing or engaging in fraud to support a gambling habit.
  • Trying to recoup money lost through gambling with more gambling.
  • Trying unsuccessfully to control, reduce or stop gaming.

The impact on the workplace

Out-of-control gambling cuts productivity, escalates absences, and can expose the workplace to fraud and theft. VRGF cites three ways addicted gamblers harm the workplace.

  1. By gambling at work, such as using their smartphones to make bets or play poker, they’re not focused on their job, nor are they effectively using their time at work.
  2. As they develop an addiction, which can lead them to gamble outside of work hours, they may take long lunch hours or miss partial or full days.
  3. Those with authorized access to company funds may use the money to support their addiction.

VRGF also notes that gambling addicts who have stolen company funds and been caught committing the offense are often found to have behaved uncharacteristically.

The foundation also notes that a study of significant court cases between 2008 and 2010 identified more than $77 million in losses due to betting, with employers losing the most from gaming-generated crime.

What employers can do

Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthful work environment for their employees. And that includes preventing workplace gambling from getting out of control and intervening when it becomes addictive. Employers can minimize the risks of workplace gambling through:

  1. Risk assessment. Identifying things in the workplace that enable excessive gambling, like computers and other digital devices.
  2. Distributing information on responsible gaming to all employees, for example, and warning them against the dangers of gaming addiction.
  3. Help and support. Communicate to employees what resources are available for gambling addiction, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) and treatment options.
  4. Workplace policy. The policy should cover what betting activity is acceptable or unacceptable at work. For example, social activities like bingo may be allowed, but not online betting using digital devices. The policy can be like one used for controlling drug and alcohol abuse.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t require employers to accommodate compulsive gamblers. Still, a gambler suffering from another impairment, like a psychiatric or addictive disorder, may be covered under the law.

The takeaway

Employers don’t have to ban gambling at work. Still, they should know the signs of addiction and intervene if employees experience problems.    

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