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Veterans groups: Games of chance in bars could close social halls

| Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, 12:39 p.m.

HARRISBURG — The state House on Wednesday is poised to vote on a Senate-passed bill to legalize small games of chance for thousands of Pennsylvania taverns.

“It's an outstanding bill. It's a fair bill,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, adding it will generate more than $150 million in new revenue for the state.

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday night approved the revised legislation, setting the stage for a vote from the full House on Wednesday. Senate Republicans and GOP Gov. Tom Corbett are supportive of the approach, Turzai said.

If the House approves the bill with changes, it must go back to the Senate.

Private clubs since 1988 have been allowed to run raffles, pull tabs and punch boards. Bars have wanted the same opportunity.

Under the proposal, tavern games would be limited to so-called pull tabs, daily drawings of $1 per patron and monthly drawings with half of the proceeds going to a designated charity.

American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts earlier on Tuesday said at a news conference that extending the games to bars would reduce the posts' income and force smaller posts to close.

After meeting with House leaders and seeing new language added to the bill, “two of three veterans (groups') leaders were supportive,” Turzai said.

Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who stood with veterans' groups at a news conference, said later he remains skeptical of how clubs will fare under the revised bill.

The legislation removes most restrictions for clubs on how they spend money, according to a summary provided by House Republicans. Under the plan, the clubs can use small-games revenue for anything except fines.

The proposal would lower the annual reporting requirement for clubs to $20,000. Under the plan, a club making less than that amount would not need to submit a report to the state.

Most Democrats on the Rules Committee voted against the bill.

House Minority Whip Mike Hanna, D-Clinton County, said the bill adds no new money for enforcement when there could be as many as 13,000 licensees with small games of chance.

Turzai called the enforcement issue a “red herring.” He said the vast majority of bar owners are law-abiding citizens who now will have opportunities to expand their business.

Amy Christie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage Association, a trade group for taverns, said clubs could benefit from being allowed to retain a higher percentage of gambling revenue.

“This benefits charities and helps our small businesses stay alive,” she said.

Under the bill, clubs' revenue from small games increases from 30 to 40 percent with 60 percent donated to charity.

Taverns would get 35 percent and municipalities would receive 5 percent. The state would get 60 percent of the revenue from small games at taverns.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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