New Gaming Bill Wants To Legalize Football Square Games At PA Bars

Posted on June 25, 2018

Pennsylvania passed a mammoth gaming reform package in 2017. That didn’t stop the legislature from trying to enact even more gaming reforms and expansions within the state last week.

The bill in question, HB 864, is a holdover from 2017. It seeks to reform and expand what Pennsylvania refers to as small games of chance. That includes things like:

  • 50/50 raffle
  • Pull-tab cards
  • Tavern gaming
  • Sports pools

The bill was defeated on the floor Friday. However, a motion to reconsider succeeded. As a result, the legislature can revisit the bill at a later date.

Tavern gaming reform

Before it embarked on its multi-year quest to legalize online gaming, Pennsylvania tried to generate revenue by legalizing tavern gaming back in 2013.

The legislation was sold to lawmakers as a way to generate a lot of revenue. It turned out to be an absolute dud though.

In an attempt to prevent underage and problem gambling, the bill took a very hardline approach to violations. There were both stiff fines and the possibility of suspension or revocation of the establishments’ liquor licenses. As such, few taverns applied for a license to offer these games.

In addition to the possibility of a suspension or revocation of the business’s liquor license, violators would be subject to the following fines per the original law:

  • First offense: up to $2,000
  • Second offense: up to $3,000
  • Third offense: up to $5,000

Further, a violation was treated as a third-degree misdemeanor. Subsequent violations resulted in a second-degree misdemeanor charge. Both carry the possibility of prison time in the state.

The new legislation clarifies what the fines would be for first, second, third, and subsequent offenses.

  • $800 for a first offense
  • $1,000 for a second offense
  • $2,000 for subsequent offenses

The bill also makes it clear that a single violation, or even three violations, will not result in the establishment losing its liquor license:

“The board shall immediately and permanently revoke a license issued under this chapter if the licensee has committed four or more violations of this chapter in a two year period.”

Provided the legislation passes down the road, the new clarity it provides on this front could result in more taverns applying.

What exactly are sports pools?

Tavern gaming might get a second chance to finally prove its mettle. However, the most interesting part of the bill is a provision allowing Pennsylvania bars and taverns to offer sports pools.

The language caused a bit of a stir on Twitter at the end of the week.

Given the stated definition in the Pennsylvania bill, and the Supreme Court decision issued earlier this year, sports pools could easily be construed as the state authorizing a form of parimutuel sports betting:

“Pool.” an activity in which a person pays an entry fee for each chance to win cash or merchandise based on the outcome of an event or series of events wherein the participants in the event or series of events are natural persons or animals.

Anyone entertaining the idea that sports betting could be coming to bars and restaurants in Pennsylvania is way out over their skis. The legislature is not going to allow bars and taverns to offer anything close to the product that will be available at Pennsylvania casinos.

Bars can basically offer football squares

The parameters of what constitutes a sports betting pool listed in the bill make it clear that sports pools are, in fact, football squares. You know, the 100-square grids that award prizes based on the final digit each team’s score, football or otherwise.

According to the bill, sports pools must meet the following requirements:

  • The maximum number of individual participants in a pool is 100 people.
  • The maximum entry fee for each individual entry in a pool is $20.
  • Other than the entry fee, no other money or thing of value is awarded participation in a pool.
  • There is at least one guaranteed winner from among the participants.
  • All entry fees collected for entry into the pool are paid as prizes to one or more participants in the pool.
  • The person or eligible organization operating the pool does not retain any portion of the entry fee.

Here’s a quick primer on how these pools work.

Bottom line

The legislation being considered is largely about two things:

  • Legalizing activities that are happening in bars and taverns across the state already.
  • Allowing the state’s bars and taverns to use small games of chance as a way to attract customers and in doing so, increase revenue.

The bill is not an attempt to authorize sports betting outside of PA casinos.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock has been a well-known writer and analyst in the world of regulated US online gambling. He contributes to a number of online publications focused on online poker and online casino, including OnlinePokerReport.com, PlayNJ.com, and many others.

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