It’s not really March Madness until the office starts taking bets on the Nasdaq

Betting is not only fun, it also can contribute to a healthy, competitive workplace environment.
Betting is not only fun, it also can contribute to a healthy, competitive workplace environment.
Image: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File
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Here are the odds on betting in the workplace: Seven out of 10 US employees have placed a friendly wager at work and eight in 10 say it’s fine to do so.

That’s from a survey by Vault, which produces employer evaluations and rankings. Bets usually focus on a major sporting events such the Super Bowl or the upcoming NCAA basketball playoffs.

But it’s hardly just an American phenomenon: last Chinese consumers spent $64.3 billion on online and other gambling, followed by Japan ($31 billion) and ($24 billion) Italy. 

Depending on your company’s policies and the state or country laws, online office pools may not even be legal. The word from as long as the pools are small, you’re in “almost no danger of getting busted.”

Most office wagers require less than a day’s pay; often they cost less than a drink after work with your colleagues. In the US, almost four in 10 workers say they put down $10 or less, Vault found, and only one in 20 say they bet more than $100.

But March Madness—as the college basketball championship tournament is known—doesn’t have to be just about sports. Here are some ideas for other office pools:

The stock market or current events.  Place your bets on when the Nasdaq index will cross 3,500, or when the Nikkei will hit 14,000. Or, if you want to tie this to the basketball playoffs, ask everyone to predict how the Dow or the DAX will close on April 8, the day of the final game.

Or select a headline from the news and place your bets. After Cyprus, what country’s next on the very shaky, needs-a-bailout list? Who’s going to run Venezuela after Chavez? What’s the next big thing from Google? Or, if you and your coworkers favor celebrity buzz, estimate the price tag or size of Bollywood star Salman Khan’s new home in Dubai, or which star will join the cast of Downton Abbey next season.

Late, later, latest.  Showing up behind schedule’s a popular bet.  So how late will that perpetually running behind colleague arrive on Friday? Or how long will everyone wait for the boss at the next team meeting? What excuse will she give for being late or calling in for a day off? These office pools are among the offbeat ones in a CareerBuilder survey. Just keep it kind and good-natured, and don’t target the same person regularly.

Business moves. Some workers certainly bet on when their company will file for Chapter 11 reorganization or announce another round of layoffs, though it’s probably better for morale to bet on success. When will the 100th worker join your company? How many widgets will sell in the first week they’re available? At Esurance, an online car insurance company, the 85 people in its marketing department receive an email asking them to guess the total number of policies sold on high sales days, about two or three times a month. The winner that day collects two movie tickets, said spokeswoman Christina Curas.

Office romance.  Love is definitely in the air and it’s a natural for speculation and friendly bets. How soon will the love birds on the social media and marketing team announce their engagement? When will your boss learn about the office tryst between his most productive person and the sweet slacker? One of the bets reported to CareerBuilder: How long will the CEO’s fourth marriage last?

Babies or pets.  Babies present bountiful betting options, whether it’s a favorite administrator’s or Prince William and Kate Middleton’s.  Besides sports, a co-worker’s pregnancy was the most popular office pool topic, in the recent Vault survey. Bet on baby’s birthday or gender, or how much the little bundle will weigh. If you’re in a workplace full of singles, the pool may be pooches or kitties—which colleague will be the first to adopt a new dog or cat? Bet on the animal’s breed, or how soon it will be house-trained.

Weather or not. My family used to place friendly bets on the date of the first measurable snow (a few stray flakes didn’t count). Some workers watch for the first really warm day (better put a specific temperature on it so you’ll know when someone has won) or the first person to show up to work wearing sandals. Extreme weather creates potential for office pools.

Weird randomness.  This category is not going to fly in every office, but CareerBuilder’s surveys came up with some strange ones: How long a colleague’s fish would survive at work, for example. How many obscenities the customer care team will hear (not say) in one day. The next oddball bet is chosen by the person who guesses the most popular swear word used.