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Laws on betting might surprise you In New York State, it's not illegal to bet, but to promote gambling or to profit from someone else's bet is.

True or false? When you call your local bookie and bet $100 on the Sabres or Bills, you are committing a crime.

Seems as if it should be true, but the answer is false.

Laws vary from state to state, and the NHL strictly forbids league personnel from placing a bet on a hockey game.

But in New York State, it's not really illegal for regular folks to make a bet. What's illegal is promoting gambling and profiting from someone else's bet.

In short, as one law enforcement official explained, it's all about taking the "scrape": Whoever skims off any percentage of the money that's bet is committing a crime.

So in the above example, the bettor -- whether he wins or loses -- hasn't done anything illegal (as long as he doesn't run afoul of the tax authorities).

The bookie, of course, has broken the law. He can be charged with promoting gambling, a misdemeanor that turns into a felony if the bookmaker has taken at least five bets totaling more than $5,000 in one day.

Retired Buffalo Police Detective Thomas A. Rinaldo, who spent close to 18 years investigating vice and gambling offenses, cited the three gambling crimes in New York State: promoting gambling, defined as advancing and/or profiting from gambling activity; possession of gambling devices; and possession of gambling records.

Placing a bet isn't illegal, as long as the person is not guilty of loitering in a public place. "When you place the bet [with me] as a player, you're not really violating the laws," Rinaldo said. "But I'm accepting the bet, so I'm promoting gambling."

So if Janet Jones, Wayne Gretzky's wife, actually put down $500,000 on sports events in the past six weeks, as the Newark Star-Ledger has reported, would she be violating any law?

From what Rinaldo has heard, if those bets were made in New York State, he doesn't know of anything that would make them illegal. It's unclear whether making such bets across state lines would make a difference.

Here's what Rinaldo and other experts say about the legality of popular gambling activities:

A poker game at your buddy's house is OK, as long as nobody is taking a percentage of the pot. "There are professional card games that are illegal," Rinaldo said.

A Super Bowl "squares" bet, where patrons of a barbershop or restaurant, for example, place money on one of 100 squares, with the winner determined by the last digit of each team's final score. That's legal, too, as long as the operator isn't pocketing a percentage of the take.

Raffles used as fund-raisers to help pay someone's medical expenses. That might not be technically legal, but as Rinaldo said, "If it's going for some worthwhile cause, I can't see anybody pressing charges on that."

Football cards, where you might win $5 on a $1 bet for picking winners, are legal for the player. But those running the game, and even the people passing out the cards, could be charged.


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