Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 20 seconds

With football season, and friendly office pools, now in full tilt, much of the U.S. workforce is either reaping the rewards of their research, cleverness and luck or cursing their favorite teams and scratching their head at the record setting 28-point spread the Jacksonville Jaguars recently enjoyed. But win or lose, their weekly foray into the wide world of sports betting is almost certainly illegal.

Except for a few states, like Nevada, Montana and a handful of others, even the smallest wagers are against the law. And, while there are few reported instances of prosecution, there are at least two more states who want to legitimize the American pastime that takes place in thousands of offices around the country.

According to the Montana Department of Justice “sports pools, fantasy sports leagues and sports tab games are … legal. These are non-banking games in which players bet against and settle with each other rather than betting against and settling with the house.” In that vein, Pennsylvania state Senator Lisa Boscola introduced legislation last year, and is making a renewed push this year, to allow small betting pools in the workplace.

“These pools are fun, spirited and harmless ways to test one’s sports knowledge and luck,” Boscola said in a statement. “It’s ridiculous that our laws brand these harmless and engaging contests as illegal.” According to legislation she drafted, the pools would be limited to 100 people, allow a maximum bet of $20, provide for no other “money or thing of value,” given for participation, operates as a non-profit entity and does not provide wagers to be retained by the pools operator.

Also, the entering the pool must be “incidental to a bona fide social relationship.” Another North-eastern U.S. state also has made a push to legalize sports betting, too. New Jersey, home to legalized gambling haven Atlantic City, is locked in a broader fight at the federal level.

The state is seeking to allow sports betting equivalent to Nevada, where you can do a lot more than place a small wager in a workplace pool. However, the Garden State has not had much luck. New Jersey’s claim that The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) unconstitutionally prevented them from permitting sports betting was rejected by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, possibly setting the stage for a Supreme Court battle.

PASPA’s key provision, according to the Court of Appeals opinion, reads a person or state “neither may sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote . . . 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.”

New Jersey argued, among other things, the law violated the state’s equal sovereignty. However, the court disagreed. “Just as PASPA once gave New Jersey preferential treatment in the context of gambling on sports, Congress may again choose to do so or, more broadly, may choose to undo PASPA altogether,” the majority opinion read.

“It is not our place to usurp Congress’ role simply because PASPA may have become an unpopular law. The forty-nine states that do not enjoy PASPA’s solicitude may easily invoke Congress’ authority should they so desire.”

In general, sports wagering amounts to nearly $380 billion, according to the American Gaming Association. A report from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission shows that less than 1% of sports wagering takes place on the books in Nevada.

Dan Sabbatino is an award winning journalist whose accolades include a New York Press Association award for a series of articles he wrote dealing with a small upstate town’s battle over the implications of letting a “big-box” retailer locate within its borders. He has worked as a reporter and editor since 2007 primarily covering state and local politics for a number of Capital Region publications, including The Legislative Gazette.

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