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Politics & Government

American Legion Opposes Plan to Let Bars Offer Small Games of Chance

A controversial bill to allow raffles, drawings, and pull-tab games in bars in Pennsylvania is getting pushback from veterans associations and fraternal clubs that have had such small games of chance for decades. 

Bar and tavern owners see themselves as winners under a proposal that would let them offer small-time gambling. But private clubs say that proposal could hurt them.

Small games of chance, like raffles and drawings, are already allowed in fraternal lodges and associations across the state including the VFW and  the American Legion.  They keep  30 percent of profits and donate the remainder to charity.

Kit Watson is top administrator for the American Legion's roughly 750 posts, and says games in bars would bring unwanted competition for gambling dollars.

"We got limited amount of funds that people spend on stuff like that and if they can stop in every tavern and every place that has a liquor license and buy small games of chance, it’s definitely going to hurt the clubs," Watson says.

He says the small games of chance are their financial life blood.  Watson says small games of chance are privates clubs’ lifeblood.  [They help] pay for the non-profit things that we do – supporting fire halls, police departments, communities, schools."

A plan to legalize small games of chance in bars  was approved by the Senate but has stalled in the House.

Some Republican House lawmakers raised objections, and there is also disagreement over how to spend the state’s cut of new gambling revenue--whether it should be sent to the state’s general budget, or a fund benefiting programs for seniors.

Watson says the controversy comes down to money. 

"If you can get $1,000 from 10,000 potential bar owners wanting the small games of chance, that’s a heck of a cash cow."

The governor’s budget office has estimated about two-thousand bars would apply for licenses, which would run them a thousand dollars apiece.