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Bars study small games of chance

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 12:06 a.m.

As early as spring, some small games of chance such as raffles and pull-tab games or tip boards will be making appearances in Pennsylvania bars and restaurants as part of a gambling law that was signed last year by Gov. Tom Corbett.

The law is the first major extension of the state's gambling since the legalization of table games in casinos in 2009.

“I think it's a good idea. I think that they should be legal,” said Debbie Nutter, owner of Leo's Pub and Grille in Mt. Pleasant. “I have said that for a long time.”

Although Nutter supports the new law, she said her Mt. Pleasant restaurant may not be the proper setting for small games of chance.

“This is really a family restaurant,” Nutter said. “We are known for our food, and I just don't think that it is the right atmosphere for something like that.”

The bill passed by a slim margin in the House, 102-96. It passed the state Senate with a much wider margin of 34 to 15.

Establishments interested in offering small games can apply for a license.

The licenses and various fees can amount to about $4,000, with establishments paying an additional $1,000 fee annually.

“I haven't figured out yet if it would be something that is cost effective for us,” said Marie Murphy, owner of the End Zone in Mt. Pleasant. “With the amount of fees that are involved versus what our return would actually be, I'm just not sure it's something that we can do and make it worthwhile.”

Corbett's office has estimated gross profits from tavern games will be about $260 million a year. The legislation calls for the state to get 60 percent of the profits, with 35 percent going to the bar owner and 5 percent to the bar's home municipality. The legislation requires that tavern game licenses only be issued in a municipality where a referendum allowing small games of chance has passed.

There are about 6,000 establishments in the Commonwealth that are eligible, and it is estimated that about 2,500 of those will see the licensing for the gambling to be permitted in their facilities.

Special informational classes, offered by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, have been scheduled around the state for those interested in obtaining a license. A class is scheduled for Tuesday in Pittsburgh. The PLCB said that because of the overwhelming response to the Tavern Gaming License Informational Sessions, Tuesday's session will be made available on the Internet via a live webinar. The informational session, which will be held at the DoubleTree by Hilton – Green Tree, begins at 1 p.m. Those who are unable to attend but would like to participate online must register by visiting .

Once registered, webinar participants will be able to view a live feed on a computer, ask questions during the question-and-answer period and print the documents that attendees will receive.

To attend any of the remaining seminars in person, visit and follow the link under “Licensees,” then “Tavern Gaming” to register. At the conclusion of all seven seminars being held across the state, a video of the Harrisburg session will be posted on the PLCB website.

“At this point in time, we are undecided what we are going to do, but we are planning on attending the classes in Pittsburgh,” said Robin Bubarth, owner of Bud Murphy's Sports Bar in Connellsville. “I think this may be something that smaller bars might be interested in looking into, that maybe only have one bartender to oversee it. My biggest concern is our staff and the extra burden something like this may place on them. Our focus here is really the quality of the food and the service. Probably not for us, but we are still looking into it.”

The informational sessions are intended for taverns interested in tavern gaming licenses only; small games of chance distributors, club licensees and eligible organizations are discouraged from attending and are instead encouraged to visit for information.

Anyone with questions about the informational sessions should call 717-783-8250.

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer.

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