Clubs and organizations that organize betting pools on Sunday's Super Bowl could face fines if caught, under a federal law that bans betting on sports in most states, according to the Pennsylvania State Police.
The stance by the state police has infuriated some state lawmakers who argue that a bill passed with wide support by the General Assembly in November and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett authorized the groups to do exactly that.
"Contrary to the state police's claim, it is not 'clear' that sports pools violate federal law and they don't cite any legal authority to support their position," state Sen. Lisa Boscola, a Northampton County Democrat, said. "They are making a legal conclusion to support their position with nothing to back it up. In addition, they conveniently ignore the fact that there are other states that have allowed these kinds of pools for years, presumably without violating federal law."
State police Commissioner Frank Noonan said in an interview that troopers will not specifically target Super Bowl pools this weekend but noted that if they come across them during the course of other duties, such as liquor enforcement, or receive a complaint, they will investigate.
Violators will receive an administrative citation that could carry a fine of $50 to $2,000.
Pennsylvania Act 92 authorized certain qualifying charitable and volunteer groups, such as veterans, fraternal and civic organizations, to conduct games of chance and betting pools, provided that the maximum number of participants is 100, the entry fee is capped at $20, there is at least one winner, and all entry fees go to prizes, among other requirements.
Mr. Noonan said the Pennsylvania law specifically requires compliance with the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.
The federal act makes it illegal for a government entity to "sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize" sports gambling, except the sport of jai-alai and animal racing, and prohibits individuals from doing so "pursuant to the law or compact of a governmental entity."
The betting pools are legal, Mr. Noonan said, but tying them to the outcome of a sporting event is not.
Mr. Noonan said the state police consulted its own attorneys as well as lawyers in the Office of General Counsel, which also works for the Corbett administration, and previously had expressed concerns about sports betting to legislative staff working on the bill.
"We have never thought it was legal," Mr. Noonan said.
However, Rep. Neal Goodman, D-Schuylkill, said the state police failed to weigh in on the crafting of the legislation until the past week, as the law took effect.
"At no time during the process did the state police raise any type of concerns. ... It seems to be that the state police are interpreting federal law, which is not their responsibility, and we strongly disagree with their interpretation," said Mr. Goodman, adding that two other states, Vermont and Iowa, allow similar types of sports pools. "We were really taken aback by it. Hearings were held and this legislation was properly vetted."
Mr. Goodman and Ms. Boscola sent a letter to Mr. Corbett, asking him to "remind the state police" of its duty to "enforce the laws of this commonwealth, not ignore the laws we pass and enforce what it thinks the law should be."
The governor's press office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
The federal act, which allows sports gambling only in Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon, has also been a thorn in the side of efforts to legalize sports gambling in New Jersey, where the office of Gov. Chris Christie may attempt to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909. The Associated Press contributed.