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State Senate OKs sports betting measures for volunteer groups, clubs

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 11:59 p.m.

Volunteer groups and clubs in Pennsylvania might be able to run sports pools legally in time for the Super Bowl.

Sports betting is illegal in Pennsylvania, but two proposed pieces of legislation — House Bills 290 and 1098 — related to small games of chance passed in the state Senate on Wednesday and went to the House.

HB 290 would amend the Small Games of Chance Act by allowing volunteer groups and clubs that have small games of chance licenses — which are issued by county treasurers — to organize sports betting pools, such as those for the Super Bowl and NCAA basketball March Madness.

“These pools are available in nearly every social club you go to,” said state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, in a prepared statement. “Today's vote finally signals a willingness to legitimize an activity that many people enjoy and rightly assume is legal.”

In 2011, Boscola introduced a bill to legalize small sports pools. Most of the provisions of her bill, Senate Bill 483, were amended into HB 290, her office said.

The organizations that run the pools, if HB 290 is approved, must award all proceeds to contestants so the pools can't be used as direct fundraisers.

“It's an amenity. It's a service they can offer,” said Stephen DeFrank, chief of staff for Boscola.

Entry fees would be limited to no more than $20 and no more than 100 participants could enter a pool.

The bill would allow the groups to offer night-at-the-races games and raffle auctions.

It's not uncommon for the State Police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement to cite clubs and taverns for operating sports pools, said Capt. Mark Crossan, who said violators brought before administrative judges can be fined between $50 and $1,000 and have their liquor licenses suspended.

Social groups and clubs, such as Elks lodges, in Pennsylvania support HB 290 but take issue with HB 1098, whose provisions would include allowing businesses with restaurant licenses to conduct tavern gaming, such as pull-tab games, daily drawings and raffles, but not sports pools, said Tom Helsel Jr., secretary for the Pennsylvania Association of Nationally Chartered Organizations and the state government relations chairman for the Elks.

If HB 1098 were to pass, tavern gaming would pull customers from fraternal organizations' games of chance, said Howard Brown, exalted ruler for Elks Lodge 339 on the North Side.

“It's going to put some (of us) out of business,” he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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