Meadville Tribune

August 24, 2013

Backers hope change to games of chance law has a chance

By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Burea

HARRISBURG — A bill aimed at reversing a key component in a change to the state’s small games of chance law sailed through the state House earlier this year before stalling in the Senate.

Proponents of the bill — which would allow small nonprofits to keep the first $40,000 they raise from raffles and other similar gambling fundraisers — say they hope the bill moves forward this fall. Current law requires nonprofits, like social clubs, youth sports booster groups and fire companies, to spend 70 percent of gambling revenue on efforts of public interest rather than reinvesting the money in their organization.

Before last year’s revision to the small games of chance law, few people understood that groups were not allow to keep all the profits for their own use.

Sunbury Mayor David Persing was so upset at the possible impact of the revised rules that he convened a community meeting to discuss the problem.

The state had delayed full implementation of the stepped-up rules and a number of seminars were held to educate the leaders of community groups about the changes. One such meeting attracted 200 people, Persing said. The educational effort largely soothed many of the fears, Persing said.

But the mayor said he is still concerned about the financial vitality of the small fire companies and veterans organizations that depend on small games of chance to survive.

“I can’t imagine how a small community would function without them,” Persing said. “You need them.”

It is a concern echoed by Republican state Rep. Michele Brooks of Crawford County, who is the prime sponsor of the bill that amend the 2012 revision.

“This bill is intended to give them the tools they need to do the wonderful things they do for the community,” Brooks said.

Brooks’ bill passed overwhelmingly in the House 186-10. It got bogged in the crush of business in late June in the Senate.

Brooks said she remains optimistic that the bill will be revisited come fall. Republican State Sen. John Gordner of Columbia County said he expects it will be.

The community groups had lobbied for changes to increase prizes. Under the 2012 revision, the individual prize limit is increased from $500 to $1,000, and the raffle can exceed $1,000 if it is conducted under a special permit. The weekly prize limit is increased from $5,000 to $25,000 and the monthly prize limit is increased from $5,000 to $10,000.

With those increases in prizes, there were new reporting and bookkeeping rules.

“I voted against the 2012 law because I believed that the prize limit increases were too substantial and that the clubs and organizations would not be happy with the other changes,” Gordner said. “Less than a year after the changes, the organizations were not happy with the changes.”

Gordner said Brooks’ bill got bogged down by political squabbling over related issues like measures that would allow taverns to conduct raffles and similar games and proposals to allow fire companies to offer casino-style games.

“I believe that ultimately there were too many conflicts and not enough resolution so it was postponed to the fall,” Gordner said.

Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.