Alle-Kiski Valley gambling machines gone
The Brackenridge American Legion, after being hit with three liquor law violations in two years, has dealt itself out of the video gambling business.
R.J. Collins, post commander and president of the Post Home Association, said he had the four video poker and video slot machines removed Feb. 8 from the premises on First Avenue. The next day, Post 226 began serving a five-day suspension of its liquor license for allegedly making payouts on the machines. It was fined $1,000.
Collins said, "This is my concern on whether I put the machines back in: I have weddings coming up, graduation parties coming up. If we get suspended, I can't have them."
He was referring to the kind of events, which usually serve alcoholic beverages, attracted to the Legion's large banquet rooms. The banquet business has been a financial pillar for the post for years.
The bar business and the video gambling machines also are revenue streams that help pay the bills, maintain the facilities and provide money for community outreach such as sponsoring youth sports teams and making charitable contributions.
Frank Svitek, a World War II veteran and the post's financial officer, said it cost $382,000 to operate the post in 2010.
Collins said the video gambling proceeds covered about 25 percent of the organization's annual budget.
"Right now, we're going to have trouble paying the bills," Svitek said. "We can't survive without them. We're right about breaking even with them."
"Those machines really help us," Collins said. "Even though you're busy at the bar, you're not making enough to cover things like utilities."
"They're making things tough on us veterans," he said of liquor control officials.
A troubling trend
Collins is troubled by the attention his post gets from the State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. He said there are plenty of bars and clubs that have video gambling machines and doesn't understand why the association keeps getting singled out.
Most citations result from someone filing a complaint with the state Liquor Control Board.
"When you call to complain to the LCB, that's all anonymous," Collins, a Korean War vet and retired policeman, said. "You should be able to confront your accuser. Even if I appeal this and go before one of their judges, I still don't face my accuser."
"I would just like to know who is turning us in and what their problem is with us," he said.
Collins said nobody has complained to him about the machines.
"I've never had a wife or anybody call up and complain about losing too much money here," he said.
If someone has a grudge against the Legion or himself, Collins said he has no idea who or why.
He produced letters from Brackenridge Police Chief Jamie Bock and Mayor Tom Kish vouching for how the Legion is operates and its significance to the community.
"The department has not had any serious calls to the establishment and the post strictly complies to the LCB rules of closing on time, etc.," Bock said in his letter dated Oct. 31, 2010.
Collins said Legion bartenders shut off any rowdy drunks. The offender's next offense results in a 30-day membership suspension.
"I've already given members 90 days," he said. "I feel that we control what we have here -- every Tom, Dick and Harry just can't walk in."
Svitek said it's hypocritical for a state agency to come down on the Legion for gambling.
The state is a gambling sponsor and provider, he said, citing the Pennsylvania Lottery and state-licensed casinos such as The Rivers in Pittsburgh.
"They encourage people to gamble, but then they penalize people for doing it," Svitek said.
He wondered if cracking down on gambling machines at clubs like the Legion is another way of steering people to casinos.
The same week in 2010 when the Brackenridge Legion was cited by the LCE, the 6,328 video slot machines at The Rivers and The Meadows in Washington County, grossed $10.9 million, according to Pennsylvania Gaming Board records
Collins said the state hurts local communities by cracking down on clubs.
"You know The Rivers Casino, they don't send any donations up here to help the local community out like we do," Collins said.
George Matta, public relations director for The Rivers, said the casino does provide $1 million per year for three years each to two Pittsburgh nonprofit economic development groups, the Northside Leadership Conference and the Hill Community Development Corp. That amounts to $6 million over three years. He was uncertain about other contributions.
Collins, however, was quick to point out that his association made about $5,000 in charitable contributions to groups in the Alle-Kiski Valley, including Eureka Fire and Rescue, the Salvation Army, the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots campaign and the Fraternal Order of Police.
Collins said the association has made banquet facilities available for post-funeral meals at no cost to the grieving families and has a standing offer to assist the elderly and disabled residents at the nearby Dalton's Edge housing complex.
"If something goes wrong over there, the residents can come over her and stay," he said.
Based on Collins' estimate of how much of the Legion's 2010 budget for which the machines provide money, the amount would be $95,500. The $5,000 it provides in charitable contributions is about 5.2 percent of that amount.
Who got busted?
The following is a list of Alle-Kiski Valley citations and when they were issued by the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement for illegal gambling machines in 2009 and 2010. This list only includes citations handled as criminal cases. Not included are citations issued as "administrative" cases, which are not available from LCE.
Alfie McDuff's, Hawthorne Street, Vandergrift, October 2009.
American Legion, First Ave., Brackenridge, February 2009, November 2009 and August 2010.
American Legion, Constitution Blvd., New Kensington, April 2009.
American Legion, Saltsburg Road, Plum, December 2010.
American Legion, Canal St., Sharpsburg, September 2009 and July 2010.
Creighton Hotel, Freeport Road, East Deer, March 2009 and September 2010.
Drop Inn Tavern, Garfield St., Springdale, December 2009.
Fawn Tavern, Bull Creek Road, Fawn, January 2010.
Hancock Avenue Inn, Hancock Ave., Vandergrift, December 2009.
J.D.'s Roadhouse, Shearsburg Road, Allegheny Township, August 2009.
Lithuanian Society, McKinley Ave., Vandergrift, March 2010.
Loyal Order of Moose, Avonmore, March 2009.
Pod's Landing, Tenth St., Sharpsburg, October 2009.
Seventh Street Sportsmen's Club, Linden Ave., New Kensington, March 2009.
Slovenian Assoc., Thomas St., Plum, February 2010.
Sons of Italy, Fifth Ave., New Kensington, March 2009.
Wenzel's Tavern, Pittsburgh St., Springdale, July 2009.
Wicked Witches, Freeport Road, Harmar, August 2009.
Source: Pennsylvania Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.