March Madness mayhem - Place your bets on Department of Defense regulations

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With March upon us, now is a good time to revisit some of the ethical rules concerning March Madness bracket events on government property, or involving government personnel.

No one is immune to college basketball hype this time of year. We’ve even seen prior presidential bracket picks on ESPN. While the Louisville Cardinals might not make it to the bracket this year, some of you will still likely fill out a bracket.

While “March Madness” events are common among workplaces during the annual NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, government employees need to approach the games with caution. Gambling on duty in government facilities is prohibited. However, not all events — including March Madness — constitute gambling.

March Madness events within an office are permissible if they do not involve an item of value, such as money, within a game of chance for a reward or prize.

The Rules

The Department of Defense Joint Ethics Regulation provides the framework for ethical conduct in DOD, including Department of Army civilians and Soldiers. Paragraph 2-302 prohibits participating in any gambling activity, including operating a gambling device, conducting a lottery or pool, participating in a game for money or property, or selling or purchasing a numbers slip or ticket while present for duty and on government owned or leased property.

In the civilian sector, bracket competitions often involve monetary prizes or monetary buy-ins to participate. When money is a prize in the event, or is required to participate in the event, it is generally in conflict with the JER.

In 2010, the DOD Standards of Conduct Office issued an advisory that says “lottery-type games, door-prizes, and similar events do not constitute gambling as long as they do not include: (1) the furnishing of consideration [something of value, usually money]; (2) in a game of chance; (3) that offers a reward or prize. Events [that] do not include all three of these elements are not gambling.”

Why Should I Care?

Gambling, even while off duty, could also result in adverse action for Soldiers.

Article 134, UCMJ and
AR 600-20, paragraph 4-14(c)(3) prohibits gambling between
officers and enlisted personnel, or noncommissioned officers
and junior enlisted Soldiers
in their personal [off-duty] capacities.

Of special interest at
Fort Knox, units like U.S. Army Recruiting Command and U.S. Army Cadet Command have local regulations and policies prohibiting gambling in all recruiting centers, facilities, headquarters or government vehicles while in uniform and on duty. They prohibit gambling with cadets or students who
are actively participating,
auditing, or conditionally
participating in any Reserve Officer Training Corps or Junior ROTC

The Defense Depart-ment also prohibits recruiters from gambling with any applicant, recruit or future Soldier, as well as with any Soldier who is completing Initial Entry Training. This includes in an off-duty status, and off-government property, when gambling is generally allowed among fellow employees.

The instruction further
prohibits the soliciting of
donations, to include fundraising, from applicants, recruits and trainees. Also of note, Soldiers gambling with subordinates, to include supervisor relationships among NCOs, is punishable under Article 134, UCMJ.

Unit or Organization Takeaways

A March Madness bracket “Winner Takes All” is all good, so long as “all” is limited to bragging rights. No money or prizes should be awarded for office games.

Minimize the use of government resources to conduct a bracket. By resources, this includes time, printer ink and paper, computers, etc. Ask yourself, “Would taxpayers be okay knowing that we’re spending their dollars on March Madness brackets?”

Lastly, remember CYA: “Call Your Attorney.” Units and
organizations would be wise to run by their March Madness plan by their local servicing judge advocate or civilian
attorney before going forward with it. Violating regulations will cost much more than the loss of a game.