By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau
The state Senate is poised to vote early this week on the final version of a bill that would allow thousands of bars across the commonwealth to begin offering small games of chance similar to those offered in social clubs and at veterans organizations.
A companion bill authored by Republican Rep. Michele Brooks of Crawford County is designed to eliminate some of the bureaucratic red tape that has aggravated officials of social clubs and veterans organization.
The bill that would open the door to small games in bars passed 102-96. Brooks and Republican Rep. Brad Roae of Crawford County was among those who voted against it. Republican Rep. Greg Lucas of Crawford County was among those who voted in favor of it.
Under the bill, about 4,500 bars and taverns could seek licenses to conduct pull-tab games, daily drawings and tavern raffles. Individual prize limits would be $2,000 for a single game and $35,000 over seven days, while raffles would be limited to one a month. The state’s budget analysts expect — based on the experience in Indiana — that about 2,000 bar owners will get licenses.
Gov. Tom Corbett also has signed on to the concept, which would represent Pennsylvania’s largest expansion of gambling since 2010, when table games were legalized in slot-machine casinos.
Government estimates suggest the expanded gambling will generate $150 million in tax revenue for the state. A provision that sets aside 5 percent of the money would provide $13 million for local government.
Brooks’ legislation is awaiting action in the House.
The most important change will broaden the rule regarding to whom clubs can give their charity. State regulators had determined that clubs should only give donations to registered nonprofits. That rule meant clubs were in no position donate to scholarships or intervene if a local family had a tragedy. It was particularly outrageous to veterans organizations which would find themselves barred from helping the families of other veterans.
“It’s absurd,” Brooks said.
The bill will also allow clubs to conduct simultaneous raffles if there is an outside event going on while the club is open. And it will also eliminate some of the paperwork requirements when people win small prizes or clubs only do less than $40,000 a year in gaming revenue.
John Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cnhipa.