Workplace sweepstakes are a fun way to enjoy some healthy competition during major sports events, but how do hybrid and remote working arrangements impact the rules around running a ‘lottery’ at work? Jo Faragher reports.
Fans are gearing up for this year’s FIFA World Cup, which starts on 20 November when host nation Qatar take on Ecuador. It is the first time the competition is being held in the Middle East so, unlike previous World Cups, it is taking place in the winter months due to the otherwise unplayable temperatures.
Across many workplaces, staff may decide to run a World Cup sweepstake, where employees are assigned random teams after paying in their “stake”. This can be a fun way to get workers excited about the tournament and encourage colleagues to enjoy some lighthearted competition.
However, while there have long been rules in place around how sweepstakes should be run, the rise in employees working from home could mean employers are more at risk of breaking the law. According to the Gambling Commission, an organisation does not need a licence if it accepts ticket payments face to face and does not sell tickets across multiple locations.
World Cup 2022
So if an office intends to run a workplace lottery, this must all take place at the same physical location – it cannot be run across multiple sites. Tickets must be sold and drawn in person, the commission adds, rather than online, via email or over the telephone.
Remote working practices have not changed this rule, according to a spokesperson for the Gambling Commission: “Our guidance is clear that physical tickets are a requirement for the running of ‘work lotteries’ which include office sweepstakes.
“The reason the requirement was included in the guidance was to ensure the propriety of the process, which remains important – the challenges many workplaces have faced in recent times notwithstanding.”
So could organising a sweepstake and allocating teams over email technically be in breach of the law?
Ben Rowe, a barrister at Crucible chambers, believes an organisation could safely argue that someone who is contracted to work from a premises and is allowed to work from home a few days a week is still a “physical” employee.
“Realistically, the vast majority of people will still be going into an office or workplace on some sort of regular basis, but if not, then that condition is not met,” he says.
What are the rules for office sweepstakes?
• Must take place at one location
• No profit can made
• Proceeds can either be used for reasonable expenses and prizes, or donated to charity
• Payments made before tickets allocated
• No roll-overs
• Teams allocated at random
• Fixed price for all teams
• Tickets are non-transferrable
• Tickets cannot be sold online, on email or over the phone
• Tickets must be drawn in the workplace
• Cannot be run at companies with a gambling licence.
Rowe adds that businesses should be still be mindful of the single location requirement: “Even one person from another office or location added to the sweepstake would mean that condition is not met.”
Gambling laws also require that organisers of lotteries and sweepstakes cannot make any profit, and all tickets have to cost the same amount. Once assigned, employees should not pass the ticket onto someone else and there cannot be any sort of roll-over.
In terms of advertising the sweepstake, this must take place in the workplace it originated, although this can include making people aware of it via the company email or intranet, according to Rowe.
If something were to go wrong, the person liable would be the promoter or organiser – in this case the employee who has set up the sweepstake on behalf of colleagues.
Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR, advises employers in the first instance to review the wording of their contracts to check whether a sweepstake is allowed at all. “Many organisations include a clause which prohibits any form of gambling which, technically, is what a sweepstake is,” he says.
A World Cup quiz or dress-up competition can get employees involved, keep morale high and keep the business on the right side of the law.” – Alan Price, BrightHR
“Whilst a good employer’s first thought is generally to include everyone in workplace activities, especially around big events such as the World Cup, they should think carefully when organising a sweepstake,” he adds.
“If they are breaking location laws, for example, by running a sweepstake across a hybrid or remote workforce, then they could find themselves in more trouble than they realised.”
If employers are feeling cautious, one option might be to consider other ways to engage staff with the tournament, Price suggests. An additional route would be to sell tickets at an event or to guests at a private society or club, which is permitted.
“Managers don’t always have to be the ‘fun police’ so should keep in mind that, just because one initiative isn’t possible, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do anything at all,” he says. “A World Cup themed quiz or dress-up competition can get employees involved, keep morale high and – most importantly – keep the business on the right side of the law.”
That said, Rowe argues that the likelihood of an investigation by the Gambling Commission or the local police force is minimal.
“There’s a difference between someone selling World Cup sweepstake teams for £1 and someone running a big numbers racket,” he adds. “Dave from IT assigning teams to 32 people would likely not meet the public interest test a police force would need to investigate.”