All bets will be off at one sports bar in Rapid City on Super Bowl Sunday.

The owner of Thirsty’s said Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo has informed him he could be prosecuted if customers there participate in a football pool on a day when millions of dollars will be bet on everything from who wins the big game to what kind of hats Bruno Mars will wear while performing at halftime.

Frank Morrison said that when he told his customers "no more pools," they took their business to another bar.

"A lot of them were mad at me," he said Thursday, adding that between 40 and 45 people would come to his Main Street bar to watch football games and play in the pools before he received a letter this past fall that outlined the prosecutor’s stance on gambling.

Vargo said he contacted Thirsty’s after receiving a complaint earlier this football season about the weekly pools, a form of gambling that is a Class 2 misdemeanor offense in South Dakota and punishable by up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

"We sent him a letter that said 'look, you want to be very cautious about this' and directed him to the state statute," Vargo said when asked about Morrison’s claim.

According to the state’s attorney’s office, sports pools fall into the same category as lotteries and only charitable organizations can legally conduct them. Included in the list of charitable organizations are veterans’ groups, volunteer fire departments, civic and service clubs, and political parties and political action committees. The games also need the approval of city or county governments.

Until last September, Morrison had a group of patrons who organized the weekly football pools. He kept the pool cards and cash at the bar, but they managed the pool, he said.

Then Vargo sent him the letter explaining that it's a violation of state law to require a payment or purchase to participate in a pool and that it would be in "everyone's best interest for your business to bring its practices into compliance before there is an investigation or any formal action."

Since then, Morrison said he sought clarification on the law from Vargo’s office but never heard back, which means he doesn't like the odds of hosting a pool where participants put a certain amount of money on a square on a larger grid and then can win a prize if their number comes up during the game.

Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender said his department rarely gets a complaint about sports pools and is not looking to make any football-pool busts.

"It's not something that gets reported, even on an occasional basis," he said. "To my knowledge, we don't have any investigations going on."

Vargo said he, too, is unaware of any business being prosecuted for a football pool but nonetheless wants them to be aware of the possible legal consequences.

"What we've told people is be aware of the statute, please make sure you are in compliance," he said. “We have not threatened prosecution. We have not brought prosecution, but we feel it's only fair to let them know that this statute is out there."

In the meantime, both Morrison and Vargo plan to attend Super Bowl parties on Sunday.

Morrison said expects his host might have a football pool that costs a quarter a square.

Vargo, meanwhile, doesn't expect to be in a position where he might win any money on Sunday.

"It would be very silly," he said.

Contact Andrea J. Cook at 394-8423 or

(19) comments


If the "house" doesn't receive any of the "take", what's the problem? Is Shake a day also illegal? How about two guys playing a game of pool for a beer? I've hosted poker games, but I don't get any money if I don't win. Legal or illegal?


So you clearly violated the law but didn't get prosecuted? I also want the department to ignore my next illegal action.


The next time you drive 36 in a 35 I'm sure it'll be ignored for ya. Good Lord.


However it is nice how you equate exceeding the speed limit by 1 MPH and illegal gambling.


Typical liberal ideology. "You got a warning instead of a ticket, therefore I feel entitled to a warning instead of a ticket the next time I break the law."


Typical conservative logic. I got away with breaking the law. Why aren't others being charged or talked to about their illegal actions? I'm being singled out... poor me.


for crying out loud , one complaint, probably from one of the casino owners that are doing the same thing. our esteemed county attorney could just of well of told the whiner to get a life and worry about the really important things, you know like drug dealers, robbery, etc.


So sad that our leaders focus is on eliminating a super bowl number board that has been around for 50 years or more, but they still can not seem to keep the sexual predators, violent criminal offenders, or whatever other real criminals roam around our state, under control. Our state is broke though? South Dakota elected officials need to have more common sense than this. He was paid to send this letter? Cmon Man!!!!!!!


The first AFL-NFL championship game was on Jan 15, 1967. The third year of the championship competition was the first time it was officially called the "Super Bowl" on Jan 12, 1969. There's no way it could be 50 years old.


Such attention to detail Brock. I think you missed the point.


isn't gambling legal in SD? Lets see, Deadwood trying to pass roulette, craps and make it a mini vegas, video lottery? Gotta pick on the commoners just having a little fun and increasing business. It's entertainment. guess the rich in this area aren't getting their cut on this one.


what about these other bars that are doing these pools, how come no one else has complained about it. Does this person have something against thirsty's, I think that is a bunch of bull that they are making one bar stop the pools but not the rest.


The Republican legislature and their friends that own all the casinos are just mad cause they are not getting all the profit or at least a cut of it. Its totally ok in SOuth Dakota to steal from education and the poor though.


What a waste of time, money, and legislation.
Doesn't the State Attorney have anything better to do?
Perhaps not.


It seems like all people have to do is complain about things anymore, except their own entitlements like food stamps, section 8 housing, medicaid, and other thing. I wonder who told...


This is selective enforcement! Football pools exist everywhere! But Mark Vargo sent only one letter and that was to Thirstys! It appears that his stance is that football pools are legal everywhere except at Thirstys and the 12th amendment to the U S Constitution which guarantees equal treatment under the law means nothing! Surely the courts don't want to be bogged down with trivial nonsense.


The issue is "selective enforcement!" Football pools exist everywhere but Vargo is only threatening Thirstys!! The US Constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law, so Vargo should have sent his "threat"to all businesses, organizations and households where people might participate in a football pool, but he didn't, he only sent it to Thirstys! Law enforcement has no interest in investigating football pools, they are much too busy getting lap dances at Shotgun Willies! I seriously doubt the court system is interested in the prosecution of little old ladies for betting a quater in a football pool!

Frank Morrison


Have mercy, man. If you don't like the law, then change it. Don't cry to the Journal.


Republican policy of keeping government out of our lives? Except when they want to be in our lives. Besides, wouldn't want anything going on that might keep an extra buck out of a lottery machine.

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