Harrisburg, January 28, 2014 – Speaking on the state senate floor, Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh/Monroe) today sharply criticized the Pennsylvania State Police for refusing to uphold Pennsylvania’s new law that allows charitable and volunteer clubs to offer small sports betting pools on events such as this Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“Despite what anyone thinks about this new law (Act 92 of 2013), we should all be alarmed that Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement agency is choosing to ignore a duly enacted law, this legislature, our governor and the people of Pennsylvania,” Boscola told her Senate colleagues.

Both the state House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill. Governor Tom Corbett, who oversees the Pennsylvania State Police, signed the measure into law. Criticizing the state police for largely sitting out the legislative process, Boscola said department officials offered no input, objections or corrective language on the legislation.

“Not only did the state police sit out the legislative process, they waited until just two weeks before the Super Bowl to tell us that they are going to blind-side, cite and possibly arrest club operators who run Super Bowl Pools,” Boscola said.

The Northampton County lawmaker said most of the district attorneys she spoke to have told her they will not prosecute any cases against volunteer club operators who lawfully conduct Super Bowl pools.

According to Boscola, the State Police are claiming that they cannot uphold the state’s new Small Games of Chance law because it conflicts with a federal statute that bans state-sponsored gaming. However, Boscola said Pennsylvania’s new law was specifically structured to avoid conflict with the federal law. She called the state police stance “wrong-headed and erroneous.” She added that other states that allow similar small sports pools have never had their laws challenged.

“The State Police’s faulty and heavy-handed approach to our small Games of Chance law is far more than an affront to us and our governor,” Boscola told her fellow senators. “It is a mean spirited attack on charitable organizations such as volunteer fire departments, veterans’ clubs and religious civic groups.”

Boscola said the whole reason for the new law was to help clubs attract new members, increase club traffic and “legitimize an activity that most Pennsylvanians already assumed was legitimate.

Rep. Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill) joined Boscola in the letter to the governor requesting that he remind State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan that his department is tasked with “upholding laws, not making them up.”

Goodman said, “”It’s ridiculous that someone could be cited or fined for throwing a couple bucks into a block pool. I’m disappointed the State Police are taking such a hard line with regard to this law and am asking Governor Corbett to intercede on behalf of these organizations before Super Bowl Sunday.”

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Editor’s Note: Following is the text of the Boscola/Goodman letter to Gov. Tom Corbett. Also attached is an audio file of Sen. Boscola’s Senate floor speech.

The Honorable Tom Corbett,  Governor
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
225 Main Capitol Bldg.
Harrisburg, PA  17120

Dear Governor Corbett:

It has been brought to our attention that the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) has been advising private club operators that it intends to issue citations to any private clubs that operate a Super Bowl pool.  PSP’s statements are particularly troubling considering Act 92 of 2013 amended the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act, to authorize the operation of pools as a game of chance by fraternal, civic, veterans, and other such clubs in the Commonwealth that are licensed to conduct games of chance.

As it has been explained to us, the PSP is taking the position that, despite Act 92, Super Bowl pools violate federal law, specifically the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).  We strongly disagree.  The federal law was enacted to prohibit state sponsored/controlled gambling on the outcome or results of professional or amateur sports events similar to that currently offered in states like Nevada and Delaware.  Simply stated, when one looks at the language of PASPA and the congressional intent behind it, Act 92 does not legalize the type of state sponsored gambling prohibited by PASPA.

From a commonsense perspective, PASPA doesn’t apply to Super Bowl pools because a winner in a traditional Super Bowl betting pool is not determined by who wins or loses the game.  Instead participants pay an entry fee and pick a random block.  Numbers are then associated with that block through a random draw.  Participants have no idea what numbers are assigned to them and the winner or loser of the game is totally irrelevant to whether a person wins or loses the pool.  It is not the type of gambling that the federal government outlawed over the opposition of the Department of Justice when it passed PASPA.

More importantly, from a legal perspective, courts have concluded that contests where individuals submit entry fees for a contest in hope of winning a prize, such entry fees do not constitute bets, wagers or gambling.  This recognized legal distinction also makes PASPA inapplicable to the provisions of Act 92.   Indeed, other states have enacted similar laws permitting the types of pools provided for in Act 92 and applied them to sporting events.

Specifically, Iowa and Vermont passed laws allowing for betting pools without violating the prohibition set forth in PASPA.  These states permit Super Bowl block pools described above along with office.

pools and March Madness bracket pools.  The language for Act 92 was modeled after Iowa and Vermont, as well as federal case law recognizing the legal distinction between entry fees and bets, wagers and gambling.

To our knowledge, the laws of Iowa and Vermont have not been challenged even though PASPA provides a mechanism for the Attorney General of the United States or a professional organization or amateur sports organization to seek injunctive relief for violations of PASPA.  Recent events in New Jersey show that the leagues and associations are quick to seek such relief when a state statute appears to violate PASPA.

We think we can agree that private clubs serve an important purpose in communities throughout this Commonwealth, whether they were created to help serve the needs of our veterans or provide athletic opportunities for our youth.  Helping these clubs stay active and vibrant is a positive for our State, which we assume was one of the reasons you signed the legislation into law.

We find it disconcerting that the PSP feels that it can ignore a duly enacted law passed with overwhelming support in the legislature and signed by you based on a tortured interpretation of federal law.  Equally disappointing is that the PSP decided to wait until after the legislation was enacted to raise any concerns about any provisions in the law.  In fact, they waited until two weeks before the Super Bowl to raise any concerns with our offices.

We strongly believe that Act 92 is consistent with federal law.  As a duly enacted law signed by you, it is entitled to a presumption of validity.  We don’t believe PSP should be threatening club operators with citations based on a questionable interpretation of PASPA.

PSP’s potential defiance of duly enacted law of this Commonwealth is troubling to us, and it should be troubling to you as well.  PSP was created to enforce the laws of this Commonwealth, not ignore the laws we pass and enforce what it thinks the law should be.  We trust that you will remind the State Police of that duty.

Sincerely,

Senator Lisa Boscola and Rep. Neal Goodman