Employment law

Office sweepstakes – do you know the rules?

Office sweepstakes – do you know the rules? Image of someone winning an office sweepstake

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    Football, horse-racing, Wimbledon – just about any event can bring on the need for a sweepstake, but it’s best to take a minute to make sure your company isn’t breaking the law.

    Yes, seriously, there are laws covering office gambling that include office sweepstakes and lotteries!

    The law in England, Wales and Scotland (the Gambling Act 2005, amended 2015) says that you cannot organise a sweepstake without a licence. However, there are exceptions for those organised in the workplace; the legislation calls these ‘work lotteries’.

    The Gambling Act 2005 creates eight categories of permitted gambling. Work lotteries are in a category called ‘permitted private lotteries’.

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    (This post won't receive any further updates after April 2017).

    Office sweepstakes - Follow these rules

    Follow these legal rules and not only will you not need a licence, but you'll be acting legally, too:

    • Sweepstakes can only be organised and participated in at one location, although this can be multiple buildings at the same location. If you’ve more than one site/location, each would need to do their own
    • You can only advertise the sweepstake at the workplace (details may not be sent to any other premises)
    • The participants can only work on the same premises. This means anyone who works at the premises (whether paid or not) and anyone who conducts business at or from the premises
    • Participants have to pay before they are given a ticket – the person who can’t pay at the time (we all know those!) can legitimately be told they can’t take part until they have the money
    • All participants have to pay the same price for each ticket.
    • Those participating cannot choose their own teams (or horses, players, etc); it must be by chance, otherwise it'd be illegal betting
    • Tickets are non-transferable
    • The sweepstake can’t be ‘rolled over’ to another sweepstake
    • The organiser can’t make any profit
    • Reasonable expenses can be deduced from the entrance fees, but the rest of the money must be given out in prizes (or be given to a charity / good cause)
    • Companies who already have a gambling licence can't organise a workplace sweepstake (e.g. casinos)
    • If the sweepstake is in any way illegal, the promoter and organiser are liable – that's usually going to be the employee who suggested it. However, if the company approved and organised the sweepstake, it'll be liable instead.

    If the Gambling Commission considers that a lottery is illegal, it may require a discussion with the operator and, if this isn’t considered satisfactory, it has the option to take forward criminal proceedings, which may result in a fine or imprisonment.

    More information is available from the Gambling Commission.

    If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues,  then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk  – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses. Our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.

    Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.