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Politics & Government

Small Games to Expand to Bars in PA

Supporters of compromise legislation that expands small games of chance in Pennsylvania believe everyone is a winner, including the state’s coffers.

Gov. Tom Corbett Wednesday signed legislation that eases reporting requirements by private clubs — such as Elks and Moose Lodges, VFWs, American Legion Halls and fire departments — but now permits taverns to operate small games of chance including raffles and pull-tabs.

“(The new law) represents a necessary compromise that will help local volunteer organizations that are doing good work for our communities,” said State Sen. Tim Solobay (D-Washington), a supporter of the legislation and a volunteer fire chief in Canonsburg.

Volunteer organizations had argued that reporting requirements enacted last year were cumbersome and confusing. Solobay says that the new law eliminates reporting requirements for organizations without a liquor license and for those who raise less than $20,000 a year from small games, there would be no annual reporting mandate.

The measure also increases prize limits and expands the types of games permitted “Night at the Races, Chinese Auctions, pull-tabs, 50-50s, daily drawings, weekly drawings that these nonprofits depend on will now officially be legal” said Solobay, "but while machines will be out of that, all the other games will be considered legal.”

The private clubs will also now be allowed to keep 40 percent of their revenues to help with expenses with the remainder going to pay for their charitable work.

The legislation also allows bars to get into the small games of chance business.  The state would get 60% of the profits, the bars 35 percent, and the remaining 5 percent would go to the municipality where the tavern is located.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) projects allowing bars to run small games of chance could bring in $156 million annually for the state and “level (the) playing field with private clubs that already offer the games.

Rep. Paul Costa (D-Allegheny) says the bars are owned and operated by  “neighbors and friends.”

“These are family-run businesses that over the years, we keep putting them, making it harder and harder for them to make a living," Costa said. "This is going to give them the ability to keep their businesses open.”