State Police Say Sports Pools Still Illegal, Despite New Pennsylvania Law
By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney
State police and legislators are now engaged in a public war of words over whether a new Pennsylvania law does in fact legalize certain types of sports pools. Under recently enacted amendments to the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act, the legislature in 2013 passed Senate Act 92, which made it lawful for certain civic organizations to run small pools on the outcome of sporting events. However, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan released a statement this week indicating that State Police still intend to cite participants in sports pools if police become aware of them. According to that department’s interpretation, the new PA law will have no effect on the legality of sports pools in Pennsylvania, primarily due to the existing prohibition under Federal law. In response, many state legislators have expressed their displeasure at what they perceive to be State Police refusal to enforce the new law.
Although PSP does not appear to have provided the reasoning for this position, it would appear that it comes from a small provision contained in the new law. The bill passed by the legislature contains the following language:
“The operation of a pool must comply with the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (Public Law 102-559, 28 U.S.C. § 3701 et seq.) or other Federal law in the operation of or participation in the pool.”
In other words, the new law does not permit any sports betting that would not otherwise be legal under Federal law. The issue here seems to be that Federal law may outlaw the very types of pools intended to be legalized under PA law. Specifically, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act makes it unlawful (with some exceptions that include lawful casinos and state laws “grandfathered” in) for:
[A] person to sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote, pursuant to the law or compact of a governmental entity, a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based, directly or indirectly (through the use of geographical references or otherwise), on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate, or are intended to participate, or on one or more performances of such athletes in such games.
The net effect is that, since Federal law may outlaw all of the conduct intended to be legalized by the new law, the legislature may have inadvertently passed a law that for all practical purposes does little to change the legality of sports pools in Pennsylvania.
Although the State Police have indicated that sports pools are low on the law enforcement priority list, the state police will still be issuing citations where they become aware of such conduct. For those thinking about participating in a friendly sports pool on Superbowl Sunday, the best advice would be to stay away until the courts have had an opportunity to weigh in on the effect of the new law.
Given the complexities created by this interplay between state and Federal law, anyone who finds themselves charged or cited in relation to sports betting should consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Although the State Police have the discretion to file criminal charges, it is ultimately up to the courts to decide the specific meaning of the new law. An experienced attorney, with knowledge of the specific facts of your case, can help determine what, if any, effect the new law may have on your charges.