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WASHINGTON — Before you get too upset about Michigan State’s porous defense ruining your college basketball pool, the Navy wants to remind you that federal officials frown upon gambling in the workplace.

Even though the popular office bets on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are illegal, about $2.5 billion will be wagered by U.S. sports fans over the course of this year’s three-week contest, according to FBI estimates.

Navy officials issued an “ethics-gram” earlier this month reminding all sailors that they “must maintain a high standard of honesty, integrity, impartiality, and conduct in the proper performance of the government business.”

Under federal rules, all persons are prohibited from participating in “games for money, operating gambling devices, conducting lotteries and selling or purchasing number tickets on federal property.” Filling out wager sheets and following the scores while on the clock are fouls as well.

That means using your bracket to win large cash payouts from sailors isn’t really in synch with military ethics.

In fact, any military personnel can be prosecuted for participating in sports betting under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which spells out punishment for both gambling with subordinates and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Both of those can earn sports fans at least three months in confinement and loss of pay.

But Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Rugh, spokesman for the Navy office of standards of conduct, said officials don’t push for those punishments in most cases, and they aren’t planning any new anti-gambling raids or prosecution of pool winners.

“We just want to make sure that everyone knows to keep these office pools under control,” he said. “This is to make sure there is a general awareness of what the rules are.”

And federal rules do allow non-monetary, friendly pools among co-workers, as long as they don’t interfere with work duties. So that’s good news for troops whose main goal isn’t money but instead the pride of proving their hoops knowledge.

Unless, of course, they’re a Big Ten fan.


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