Legislation proposed to legalize small betting pools

By Andrew Shull

With Pitt’s regularly scheduled early-round exit postponed until next year, Pitt students have… With Pitt’s regularly scheduled early-round exit postponed until next year, Pitt students have a chance to fill out a dispassionate March Madness bracket in hopes of besting friends, family and co-workers in their betting pools.

But many people don’t know that these small betting pools are illegal and that organizing or handling the money for one could result in a two-and-a-half-year-minimum jail sentence.

That law prompted state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, to introduce legislation to make small, friendly pools legal in Pennsylvania.

She said that she was moved to act when liquor-enforcement agents cited a bar owner in her home district for hosting a $1 Super Bowl pool.

“It’s madness to have this illegal when everybody is doing it,” Boscola said.

She said she held up her March Madness picks on the floor of the General Assembly Wednesday when she introduced the bill.

“This is a common-sense approach to an everyday situation,” she said.

Boscola said her bill, which is co-sponsored by three other senators, is modeled after a similar law in Vermont.

She said the bill would make these sports pools legal as long as the entry amount is $20 or less, there are no more than 100 participants, there is an established social, professional or familial relationship among contestants, and the proceeds go to participants of the pool or charities.

A press release from her office said that a similar bill is pending in Michigan, and Matthew Marks, a legislative assistant for Boscola, said that Montana also differentiates between public and private betting.

Ryan Zeh, a Pitt sophomore, said that he was only aware that small betting pools are illegal because he was caught operating one in the sixth grade by a teacher. He said he only recalled being told that he wasn’t allowed to do it and faced no further repercussions.

“We just made sure we did it so [the teacher] wouldn’t find out,” he said.

Another Pitt sophomore, Ty Shedleski, said that he supports this legislation.

“I thought it was already legal,” he said.

Boscola said that she participates in a number of March Madness pools at work, with friends and in social situations and said the practice benefits college basketball.

“If Villanova — my alma mater — isn’t in it, I watch because of my pool,” she said.

But Boscola’s personal bracket might upset some of her constituents. She confessed that she has Duke University, a No. 2 seed, beating Lehigh University, a No. 15 seed from her district, in the first round.

“I had to,” she said, admitting she has Duke going to the Elite Eight and eventually losing to Kentucky. “Not that I’m not rooting for [Lehigh]. It would be the upset of the century. It would be great. This town would go crazy.”