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Small games of chance rules delay hailed by volunteer fire departments, social clubs

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 7:35 p.m.

A law unpopular with volunteer fire departments and independent social clubs has received a one-year reprieve so changes can be made.

On Thursday, state Sens. Richard Kasunic and Tim Solobay received word that the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue delayed the requirements of the Small Games of Chance law for one year.

In a Dec. 12 letter to Gov. Tom Corbett, Kasunic and Solobay urged the administration to postpone an administrative Feb. 1 deadline for organizations to file reports under Act 2 of 2012, a sweeping revision of the state's Small Games of Chance regulations.

“This one-year delay will give the Legislature a chance to fix the problems the law has created,” Kasunic said. “Without the moratorium, many organizations that are part of the fabric of life in Pennsylvania could have been forced to close their doors. That would have been a catastrophe for communities and for taxpayers.”

Understaffed volunteer groups, Solobay said, have had difficulty understanding the law, as well as the further revisions passed late last year.

“This is great news for hundreds of important organizations across Pennsylvania that are struggling with the complexity of the new law,” Solobay said. “I applaud the governor for recognizing the consequences that heavy-handed enforcement could have had.”

The Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement provided information on the law to approximately 20 representatives from local fire departments and social clubs last year in the Frazier High School auditorium in Perryopolis.

“It's something that really needed done,” said A.J. Boni, a Perry Township supervisor and Perryopolis Volunteer Fire Department assistant chief who helped organize the meeting. “It (the reprieve) will give time to revisit that bill and put some common-sense reforms in it.”

Boni said the feedback he received from those attending the meeting knew that the law has been in existence but did not realize how restrictive it really is.

For example, during a small game of chance at a fire department or club, if someone would win cash, there would be paperwork filled out. However, if that same person would purchase an instant lottery ticket at a gas station and win $400, they can walk out of the store with their money and fill out no paperwork.

“I don't think anyone's out there to beat the system,” Boni said. “We just want our fair share. Bottom line: Small games of chance are a way of life for volunteer fire departments.”

Solobay and Kasunic both indicated lawmakers are working on revisions to the law based on hundreds of letters and emails from community leaders concerned with the overreach of Act 2.

“Some of us with experience as volunteers and as organization leaders predicted some of these unintended consequences when the bill was making its way through the Legislature,” Solobay said.

“But we couldn't convince everyone of the threat,” he added. “Now, I think, everyone has heard from leaders in their communities, and we're ready to make sure that the law preserves the viability of the organizations that desperately need the money to continue the work they do in the community.”

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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