Pa. state police: Sports betting pools still illegal

Posted: January 31, 2014

HARRISBURG - Think it's OK to enter that Super Bowl betting pool offered down at the local fire hall or VFW post?

The Pennsylvania State Police says it's not. But a Lehigh Valley legislator begs to differ.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Lehigh) stood up and tore into the state police, contending the agency was refusing to recognize a new law that allows charitable and volunteer clubs to offer small betting pools on events involving "natural persons or animals."

According to Boscola, small betting pools on amateur and professional sporting events (i.e., the Super Bowl) are fair game.

Late last year, the GOP-controlled legislature passed bills to expand small games of chance to bars and restaurants. The bills also allowed charitable and volunteer organizations, which already offered such games, to offer additional games, including pools.

"Our state police has arbitrarily decided to ignore state law," Boscola said. "They are going to go inside, blindside people, cite people, and possibly arrest people." Not so fast, countered State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan.

In an interview Wednesday, Noonan said a 1992 federal law prohibits sports betting pools in all but a handful of states. Boscola contends federal law prohibits only state-sanctioned sports betting pools.

Sports lotteries in Oregon, Delaware, and Montana are exempt, as are as licensed sports pools in Nevada.

So although Pennsylvania's new law allows betting pools, those pools can't involve sporting events, according to Noonan. If a VFW post or fire department wanted to start a pool on how long it would take to sing the national anthem, or when someone will give birth, law enforcement won't bat an eyelash, he said.

Noonan also disputed that state troopers would be specifically prowling to nab groups offering sports betting pools this weekend. But, he said, if the agency discovers illegal activity, people will be cited. Fines can range from $50 to $2,000.

"We are not targeting anyone," Noonan said, "but we will enforce the law."



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