The Law of Melbourne Cup Office Sweeps – Sorry to be a Nag


Australians love a good gamble, and why not? Supposedly we are the lucky country, and everyone who gambles always believes they are due a big win.


This fun-loving, family-destroying attitude all comes to a head on Melbourne Cup Day, with workplaces everywhere organising office sweeps. For one glorious, day-drinking Tuesday, almost every office and workplace in Australia becomes its own little gambling den, and for the most part the usual stern and uncompromising laws that severely restrict when and how we gamble choose to turn a blind eye to the legality, or otherwise, of the office sweep.


I want to be clear. I hate gambling, particularly on live animal races, but I am not discouraging office sweeps on Melbourne Cup Day. I have been part of an office sweep myself. My objection is to horse racing itself, as I feel it involves whipping animals more than I think is reasonable. What is a reasonable amount of whipping, you ask? How about zero whipping? How about for every time a jockey whips his or her horse, he or she has to whip him or herself as well, just as hard? If that was a rule of horse racing, it might make me soften my views. But enough of my ranting, let’s find out how and where we can legally bet on the Big Race.


Sorry, just one more thing before we start, but I promise this is a relevant fact this time. There is more than one type of sweep, just like there is more than one inhumane form of sport that only serves the purpose of encouraging gambling. The sweep I am familiar with is where you put in a fixed amount of cash, say $2, and get a ticket for a horse in the race, which is drawn at random. Typically, if your horse get first, second, third or last place, you get a share of the total cash for that sweep. So easy, even I almost understand it.


There is also another type of sweep, which I had not heard of before I wrote this section, called a ‘Calcutta Sweep’. This is a slightly racist sounding sweep, where each person playing in the sweep puts in an initial minimum amount to participate. Then, an auction takes place for the various horseys amongst those participating, with each ticket for each horse going to the highest bidder. Wow, gambling is so complex! But if this sounds like fun, please do not get too excited. A Calcutta Sweep requires your work to get a gambling licence before it can run one, so it is probably not worth your time for Melbourne Cup Day.


The next thing to be aware of is that each State and Territory has its own rules around running a sweep, whether at the office, at home, or in some back alley. The same rules apply to pretty much all other types of ‘fun’ gambling that might take place in an office, at a club, or at a sports group, like raffles and even the humble game of Bingo.


Firstly, if you live in Queensland, Tasmania or the Northern Territory, then you might as well stop reading after this paragraph. Unless your workplace gets approved by the relevant gambling authority in those States (or Territory), you cannot hold any type of sweep in the office, or anywhere else, at any time, even on Melbourne Cup Day. Your office would first need to be approved as an ‘association’, as only associations can hold sweeps. Getting that approval means making an application, paying fees, playing by the rules and so on. That process takes all the fun out of the office sweeps process, which is, I suppose, meant to be a spontaneous, fun, relaxed way of bonding as a workplace on Melbourne Cup Day.


The laws on sweeps in Western Australia are straightforward enough, as far as these things go. Small private lotteries, where tickets are sold people at the same workplace, and where value of the prize pool is not more than $2,000 (where the lottery and the draw take place on the same day, like Melbourne Cup Day), do not require a licence. So sweep away, West Australians, legally and happily. Just keep the maximum amount that can be won under each sweep to no more than $2,000.


South Australia is pretty similar to Western Australia. Again, the total amount that can be won in the sweep cannot exceed $2,000. So long as you stay within this limit, an office sweep in South Australia can be held legally and without any licences or authorisations being required.


In our nation’s capital (that’s the Australian Capital Territory, in case you were wondering), a permit is not required where the total prize value of the sweep does not exceed $2,500, however your workplace has to comply with a bunch of fairly straightforward rules, like conducting the sweep openly and fairly. So long as the sweep is not rigged (like the US election, am I right, Mr Trump?), and the prize pool is not more than $2,500, you can have a go on Melbourne Cup Day.


New South Wales is much less frugal than the other States and Territories when it comes to prize money for sweeps. You can have an office sweep with a maximum prize pool of up to $20,000 before you need to get a licence. However, you can’t just hold sweeps willy-nilly, on any old thing. An office sweep is only permitted for ‘approved events’, which includes the Melbourne Cup. Just to give you an idea of what people in New South Wales given the same status as the Melbourne Cup, there are around 50 other approved events, including the Bathurst 1,000, a bunch of horse and dog races, and my personal favourite and the highlight of my social calendar each year: the Armidale Snail Races (conducted by the Armidale Branch of the Challenge Foundation of New South Wales, in case you were interested). Hopefully there is no whipping of snails. If there is, I just found my new social cause.


Finally, the home of the Melbourne Cup, Victoria, has very relaxed rules on sweeps, as you might expect. Make sure your maximum prize pool is less than $5,000, and you’re good to go. None of this ‘approved events’ shit that goes on in New South Wales. But then again, Victoria does not seem to have any snail races that I know of, so New South Wales still wins in my view.


Finally, a sweep CAN award prizes other than money, but be careful. Most States and Territories that do allow sweeps take a pretty dim view on prizes that consist of prizes like tobacco, firearms and ammo, weapons, cosmetic or other similar surgeries or procedures to improve physical appearance, and liquor prizes that are more than, say, 20 litres (to use the rules from New South Wales as an example). Though if your office sweep has prizes of plastic surgery, you might want to take a good long hard look at what type of place you are working for. You are beautiful just the way you are, promise!


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