PA State Police: Don't bet on it...


To enter or not to enter that Superbowl betting pool offered down at the local fire hall or VFW post?

The Pennsylvania State Police says the answer can be summed up in one word: No.

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Lehigh) begs to differ. Actually, she is doing more than that.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Boscola stood up and proceeded to tear into the State Police, contending the agency was refusing to recognize a new state 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 (re: Super Bowl) are fair game.

"Our State Police has arbitrarily decided to ignore state law," Boscola said, adding that she was extremely frustrated.

"They are going to go inside, blindside people, cite people and possibly arrest people," she said.

Not so fast, countered State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan on Wednesday.

Noonan said in an interview that federal law prohibits sports betting pools of any kind in all but a handful of states. The federal Professional And Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, he said, effectively outlawed sports betting nationwide, excluding a few states. Sports lotteries in Oregon, Delaware and Montana were exempt, as were licensed sports pools in Nevada.

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

"Yes, pools are legal - but not ones involving sporting events," said Noonan.

He also disputed that State Police officers will be specifically prowling to nab groups offering sports betting pools this weekend. But, he said, if the agency discovers any illegal activity, people will be cited (the fines range from $50 to $2,000).

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

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 had such games, to offer additional games, including pools.

Boscola contends federal law prohibits only state-sanctioned sports betting pools. Her office also said Pennsylvania's new law contains language specifying that charitable and volunteer organizations offering small betting pools can't profit from it - which is essential to the defining it as traditional sports gambling.

--Angela Couloumbis

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