Nonprofits welcome small game reprieve
Attendance at bingo, a chief source of revenue for volunteer fire companies, has been on the decline for years.
Charles Mirabella, president of the Fayette City Volunteer Fire Department, said casinos have cut into that profit. A smoking ban further hurt bingo attendance.
Stringent reporting aspects of state Act 2 of 2012, which were set to go into effect in February, would have been “strike three,” Mirabella said.
Gov. Tom Corbett announced this week that he was granting a one-year delay for clubs and fraternal organizations to begin filing burdensome reports on the small games of chance they operate.
“That will help us as well as other volunteer fire companies that basically depend on what little money we make at bingos,” Mirabella said.
“The state seems to hold the hands of casinos, and they can do anything they want. But us fire companies have to jump through hoops. If something is not done, they'll be sorry when we're gone.”
Mirabella said fire companies have struggled with rising costs ranging from vehicle payments to diesel fuel.
“I don't know how some of us fire companies are going to survive, Mirabella said. “Already, some fire companies have shut their doors, because no money is coming in.
“Some fire companies are struggling, others have merged. Regionalization is on everyone's minds, but it's difficult to give up what you've worked for.”
Bill Castner Jr., chief and treasurer for the Lock 4 Volunteer Fire Department, said the reprieve gives departments another year to prepare for the paperwork requirements.
Castner said his company has begun the added accounting work required under the act so they would be prepared for the changes ahead.
“It's very stressful. It's a very big headache,” Castner said. “The guys are all volunteers, so it's a lot to ask for them to do.”
“It will help us out financially a lot, because we're hurting,” said Rich McBurnie, a member of Arden Calvert Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 167 and first vice president of American Legion Post 22, both in Charleroi.
While serving at the VFW post Friday, McBurnie said all of the clubs are struggling.
“The business isn't there like it used to be,” he said. “The legion and the VFW are in the same boat. We're making it, but we're not able to make repairs to the club.”
Pennsylvania law since 1988 required all proceeds from small games of chance to be donated to charity. Legislators thought they were helping earlier this year when they passed Act 2, which increases prize limits and allows veterans clubs to keep 30 percent of their gambling proceeds.
But for clubs that say they've been keeping the money all along – unaware they were supposed to give it all away – the new law is a hindrance more than a help.
As a result, on Nov. 30, members of the southwestern Pennsylvania Caucus held a press conference at the Donora American Legion to announce they were circulating a memo asking Corbett to place a moratorium on the act until the Legislature addreses the concerns.
McBurnie said the provision of that act that allows clubs to keep just 30 percent of funds raised for their own use and requires the other 70 percent to be given to “organizations providing community benefit” was especially onerous.
“That's a big bit when the business was slow,” McBurnie said.
Castner said his department's fire truck payment qualifies under the 70 percent provision, so the change does not hurt his company financially.
Other significant changes in Act 2 of 2012 require organizations conducting small games of chance to:
• Keep records of the names and addresses of any winner of more than $100.
• Withhold and remit income taxes on winnings.
• Report the number of W-2G forms issued. The forms are used to report withholding and income from gambling-related activities.
• Report total gross winnings reported on W-2G forms.
• To not add or remove any currently legal small games of chance.
• Allow only members of the organization holding the small games of chance license to sell raffle tickets.
• Disallows raffle tickets to be sold at convenience stores if the employees selling tickets don't belong to the organization.
• Disallows tickets to be sold at bars or other places holding liquor licenses, other than the club selling the tickets.
• Requires small games of chance license holders to open separate bank accounts.
It did, however, raise the prize limit to $1,000 per game and $25,000 per week.
State Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-California, applauded Corbett's announcement.
“What the governor did was great for the people of the Valley,” Daley said. “Those petition drives we did and all of the churches, legions and VFWs, that worked. The governor heeded the call.”
Daley said the one-year reprieve will give lawmakers a chance to repeal and rewrite the legislation.
Daley said petition drives at the club level played a major role in the governor's decision.
“We had tens of thousands of people in southwestern Pennsylvania who signed petitions,” Daley said. “That worked. That's democracy at work.
“The governor's paying attention and that's great.”
Other lawmakers commended the governor's decision.
“Local fire departments, veterans' organizations and other volunteer organizations across the state have voiced concern about the complex annual reports required by the new law,” said state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-South Strabane Township said.
“Their voices have been heard.”
State Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, added, “I think it is wise of the governor to step back and give relief for a year so the Legislature can sort this out and make it right.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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