A small battle is brewing over the legality of sports betting in Pennsylvania, and it’s pitting the state police commissioner against a state senator with social clubs left in the middle scratching their heads.
Last year the state Legislature passed a law that allows social clubs like VFWs and American Legions to run pools associated with events like the Super Bowl, but it carries the clause that the pools must comply with federal law. A 1992 federal law stipulates that betting on the outcome of sporting events is illegal in every state except Delaware, Montana, Oregon and Nevada.
“You could not have squares with the total score … but you could have a pool on how long is the national anthem going to take, but it can’t involve the game,” said Pennsylvania State Police Commander Frank Noonan.
State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northhampton) thinks otherwise. She has told the department that the law is specifically designed to avoid conflict with federal law. A law passed last year in New Jersey that allows sports betting in casinos is currently the subject of litigation.
Noonan said the issue is getting a little blown out of proportion.
“If you were driving 60 in a 55 (miles per hour speed zone), I might not give you a ticket but if you ask me can I drive 60 in a 55 I would say ‘no,’ and that is where we are right now,” Noonan said.
State police have not increased enforcement of gambling laws as the department interprets them, but officers are not looking the other way when they head into the clubs to review liquor laws and other codes.
“Right now our lawyers are telling us this is illegal, and we believe the case law supports us,” said Noonan, who admits any citations written this week could wind up being appealed.
To further confuse club managers, Boscolla said she has talked to several district attorneys who say they will not prosecute any cases against volunteer club operators “who lawfully conduct Super Bowl pools.”