Workers warned to avoid gambling

Al Kamen
Columnist March 25, 2013

Usually, the rules of gambling are pretty simple: know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away. But things get a lot more complicated when the gambler is a federal employee.

With much of the country in the grip of March Madness, government lawyers (always playing the killjoy) want to make sure federal employees don’t go too crazy. Over at the Labor Department, a warning recently went out to workers in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reminding them that wagering on college hoops is a big no-no.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

“While betting a few bucks on sports is often viewed as a harmless social pastime, if done at work it runs afoul of the Federal regulations that prohibit gambling for money or property in the Federal workplace,” the memo warns.

That means you can’t throw a few bucks to Joe in accounting, who runs the office pool. There’s no gambling on the premises when the premises belong to Uncle Sam.

Buuut, like with so many laws and regulations, there’s a loophole. So long as no money (or anything of value) is changing hands, a harmless little bracket is A-okay. Per the memo: “Given that many Federal employees are avid sports fans, these rules do not prohibit workplace sports pools created solely for bragging rights — not for money or personal property.”

So, federal workers will have to settle for “bragging rights,” which is really no small thing in most offices. And with the wild ride so far in the NCAA tourney, anyone who had, say, Florida Gulf Coast University advancing to the Sweet 16 deserves to boast.

To the monkey bars!

The Senate broke for a two-week recess starting Friday. And this time it’s a real recess — not the “pro forma” session kind where a senator from Maryland or Virginia pops by occasionally to gavel the chamber in and out of session for a few seconds.

And while the cats are away . . .

But don’t look for the White House to take advantage of the break to sneak in any of those controversial recess appointments that got senators so riled up last year. This time, Senate leaders came to an agreement with the White House that there would be no recess appointments.

While they’ve struck the same kind of gentlemen’s arrangement a few times before — one Senate aide described it as “not unusual” — more often than not the last two years have produced a string of open-and-shut sessions every few days to meet the senatorial definition of being in session. (A full adjournment for recesses requires the consent of both chambers, meaning House Speaker John Boehner could force the Senate into the pro forma sessions.)

In January of last year, President Obama made an end run around the Senate, naming three members of the National Labor Relations Board, as well as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, while the upper chamber was out of town. Predictably, senators, particularly Republicans, were steamed. A lawsuit ensued — the latest is that a federal appeals court invalidated the NLRB appointments, though the NLRB is appealing.

But at least for the next two weeks, senators can rest their heads back at home without worrying about what the White House is up to here in Washington — and the local senators won’t have to flip a coin to see who has to take gavel duty.

Fireworks when it’s less fiery

Somehow we missed an early celebration this month of Independence Day. In most places in the United States, this happens on the Fourth of July, to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

But the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, celebrates the Fourth — which it calls “National Day” — in March. This year the big bash was March 11, according to our copy of the Saudi Gazette. (Slipped by some folks at the State Department as well.)

A fine crowd of dignitaries watched Ambassador James Smith and Saudi officials cut a large cake decorated like the American flag. “We are celebrating the 237th anniversary of American independence,” he said, and the “80th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” (Full relations weren’t established until 1940, according to State’s historian, but let’s not quibble.)

So, what’s the reason for this odd celebration?

Well, Riyadh is said to be the hottest capital in the world, with daytime temps in July averaging a fine 110 degrees and the record high close to 120 degrees.

In March, the highs average a much more comfortable 81.7 and the lows only 59 — and “National Day” appears to be traditionally celebrated at night.

But wait a minute. The Mall gets brutally hot in July, and patriotic Americans celebrate in high temperatures — average high just under 90 degrees, record around 105 — and sweltering humidity, to boot.

In contrast, Riyadh has virtually no rainfall in the summer, so it’s got what folks in Phoenix like to boast is a dry heat. (Very dry, so when you put your hands on the steering wheel it feels like the top of your electric cooktop.) Suffocating dust storms are common in Riyadh in summer, and they can be quite annoying.

Still, the embassy could be on to something. Maybe we could celebrate the Fourth in early October, when the temps are much better, or in early May or June?

But the beer wouldn’t be nearly as refreshing.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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