Sports Fans Beware- Starting That Office Pool May be a Crime in Pennsylvania

By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

As the fall baseball playoffs heat up, and football occupies our attention every Saturday and Sunday, it is important to be mindful that even the most friendly office pools on the outcomes of games may run afoul of Pennsylvania law.

In Pennsylvania, a person commits the offense of “Pool Selling and Book Making” if he/she:

(1) engages in pool selling or bookmaking;
(2) occupies any place for the purpose of receiving, recording or registering bets or wagers, or of selling pools;
(3) receives, records, registers, forwards, or purports or pretends to forward, to another, any bet or wager upon the result of any political nomination, appointment or election, or upon any contest of any nature;
(4) becomes the custodian or depository, for gain or ward, of any property staked, wagered or pledged, or to be staked, wagered, or pledged upon any such result; or
(5) being the owner, lessee, or occupant of any premises, knowingly permits or suffers the same, to be used or occupied for any of such purposes.

What is important to note here is that this law has no threshold dollar amount, and contains no exception for small pools that are otherwise casually arranged between friends or co-workers. Additionally, except for a very limited provision that involves the game of Bingo, there is no exception for charitable or civic purposes. The law surely was intended to apply to professional book-makers, and is usually applied in that context. However, the law as written applies as much to a friendly office pool involving a few dollars as it does to sophisticated bookmaking operations. In fact, as written, a business owner who does not participate at all could still be liable for the conduct of his/her employees in running an office pool on company property.

While many may assume that their small office pool or fundraiser is not likely to fall very high on the priority list of local law enforcement, forewarned is forearmed. Under Pennsylvania law as it stands, organizing that pool could involve real consequences, a misdemeanor of the first degree, and up to 5 years in jail.

If you are charged with or fear that you may be charged with, any gambling-related offense in Pennsylvania, the stakes are as high as they get. Contact us immediately to make an appointment with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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