Like the light fittings, phones and desks; sports are a permanent fixture in our office, along with the inevitable office sweepstake. It’s probably not that surprising then that the lawyers among us got to thinking – what does the law say about office sweepstakes?

Introducing…the Gambling Commission

The gambling commission is responsible for regulating all forms of gambling in the UK – whether you’re playing the lottery, betting thousands on a horse or just placing a £5 bet on guernsey F.C to win (we wouldn’t advise it!).

In order to work out whether your office sweepstake is legal, you first need to know what constitutes a sweepstake. This is where the gambling commission comes in. They define a sweepstake as an arrangement where:

1) You have to pay to enter; and

2) There’s a minimum of at least one prize on offer (and yes, a wooden spoon counts as a prize); and

3) Prizes are allocated by chance.

It is worth noting that, technically, this is called a ‘lottery’ rather than a ‘sweepstake’ however, what you call it is really not important. If you’re looking at the three criteria above and nodding your head – you can be pretty sure it’s a lottery.

Does that mean my office sweepstake is illegal then?

Before you start laughing at the idea of being arrested for taking part in an illegal office sweepstake, we should probably add some context. The 2005 gambling act creates an offence of running an illegal lottery and, believe it or not, you can face up to 51 weeks imprisonment and a fine of £5,000.

So, we arrive at the most important part of the blog…how to make sure your office sweepstake is legal. It’s really straight-forward, just stick to these rules:

1) You can make small deductions to cover administrative costs but these have to be reasonable. If you end up with prize money of £10 but colin the it guy has been paid £200 out of the kitty to set up the sweepstake website, you’ve gone wrong.

2) No profits. All the money paid in should form the prize money (less any reasonable administrative costs) – though obviously you can have as many different prizes as you like. Including, we would hope, a wooden spoon for good measure!

3) The competition can’t run over more than one location (this is the rule that usually catches businesses out). Bizarre as it may seem, if your company spans more than one office, you’ll need to arrange separate sweepstakes for each office. It’s worth pointing out that the gambling commission (for reasons unknown) decided that multiple buildings on one site can participate in the same sweepstake, but if your buildings are on different sites you’ll need separate sweepstakes. It’s a bit of an odd rule, we know.

4) We won’t bore you with another set of rules, but be aware that if you’re running the sweepstake as a charity event there is, unfortunately, yet another set of rules that apply – known as the ‘incidental non-commercial lottery rules’

So then, if you’re thinking of running an office sweepstake remember to bear in mind the points listed above. Whether you’re betting on the football, golf, world hula-hooping championships or just the office intern actually getting the tea order right, it’s important to stay on the right side of the law.

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Jonathan Craddock

Client Partner

Jonathan graduated in LLB law from the University of the West of England in 2012. He then completed the Legal Practice Course in 2013 before working with some of Southampton’s top law firms.

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