By Lt. Kathy Paradis
U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps
Mid-March generally brings to mind warmer temperatures, longer days, and perhaps a little luck o’ the Irish. For many sports fans, it also marks the beginning of one of the most wonderful times of the year: the NCAA March Madness Tournament!
If you’re one of the millions of people who gets caught up in the exhilaration of making a bracket and then following it through three weeks of nail-biting excitement, you must read this to be aware of how to enjoy this time of year while not violating any regulations that affect you as a service member.
You may be thinking, “Regulations? But this is just basketball!” Well, maybe. Under federal and Department of Defense regulations, it could also constitute prohibited gambling. As service members, we are prohibited from engaging in most gambling activities, which could include a March Madness office pool, while on federal property or onboard naval units. We are also prohibited from using government computers for unofficial purposes without supervisor approval. Violations of the regulation could result in adverse administrative action, or even disciplinary action under the UCMJ.
So now you’re probably thinking, “But we always do March Madness brackets at work!” As long as it doesn’t violate your office policy on the use of government computers, filling out a March Madness bracket and following along to see who wins is not a problem on its own. It becomes a problem, however, once people start putting money into a pool or otherwise betting on who wins in hopes of winning the pool (and the cash) at the end of the tournament. If the winner of your office pool only gets “bragging rights,” that is okay.
So how can you enjoy March Madness without getting in trouble? A few tips:
- Don’t “pay to play.” Paying in to win the cash (or some other prize) at the end is gambling, and it is illegal on federal property.
- You may participate in office pools that don’t involve paying in to win a prize.
- Don’t use government computers for unofficial purposes. Even if the office pool is just for “bragging rights,” make sure any personal use of government computers has been approved by your supervisor.
- You may participate in March Madness pools, even those where you “pay to play” to win a prize, with your friends on your personal time and in your personal space (off-base or in on-base home or barracks), as long as permitted by local laws.
- If you are a supervisor, don’t pressure subordinates to participate in March Madness, even if the pool is otherwise okay.
- If you are a commanding officer, don’t hold “official” March Madness activities that could imply DON/DoD endorsement of the NCAA, March Madness, any particular conference or team, or any other non-Federal entity.
Any service members who have questions about participating in March Madness while at work or on federal property should direct questions to their ethics counselor (usually, the JAG or civilian general counsel for the command) or their supervisor. Remember, it’s better to ask first than get in trouble later!
Editor’s note: Lt. Katie Paradis is a judge advocate assigned to the Administrative Law division of Naval Civil Law Support Activity. Her division advises Washington activities and field commands on law, policies, statutes and regulations pertaining to Department of Navy (DoN) administration. More information about the JAG Corps can be found at www.jag.navy.mil.