Small games of chance law drawing criticism

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More and more social clubs and civic groups are seemingly opting to give up offering small games of chance such as “fish bowls” and “pull-tabs” at their establishments because of stringent regulations imposed by the state that took effect July 1.


Club officers claim the new law does nothing but make it more difficult and costly for the already struggling organizations to stay afloat, especially since the organizations can use only a minimal amount of the proceeds for facility maintenance and other costs, including the restocking of the gaming pieces.


“It looks like we’re going to eliminate them because we can’t survive giving everything away,” said Ray Parkinson, quartermaster for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 927 in Washington. “We’re only allowed to use the proceeds for certain things. There’s more paperwork and it’s more time-consuming.”


Bob Hunt, president of American Legion Post 175 in Washington, confirmed his organization will probably eliminate the games as well.


He said the new regulations definitely hurt organizations that rely on proceeds to offset operation costs.


“They want 70-30. Seventy percent for them and 30 percent for us,” he said. “It’s not going to work.”


Under the state law, adopted earlier this year by the Legislature, the organization must contribute 70 percent of gaming proceeds for “public interest purposes,” but the law does not define what those are. The remainder of the proceeds can be used by the club for a list of nine general operating expenses, including capital improvements, property taxes, utilities and insurance.


While the new law increases the prize limits for daily and weekly drawings and monthly raffles, the organization leaders say it’s not worth the hassle, including a requirement that winners of jackpots of more than $600 must be reported to the state.


Francis King, Washington County treasurer who is responsible for the sale of small games of chance licenses, said he’s received a lot of complaints about the new regulations. But, he said he won’t know how many organizations decide to pass on the fundraisers until next year when it’s time for license renewal.


In the meantime, King pointed out that another interesting tidbit of the law is that there is no reference to Chinese auctions or 50-50 drawings. “Those are considered illegal,” he explained. “Even if you buy a license, those aren’t covered under the law. So, they’re not legal.” That includes those offered at political fundraisers, church festivals and sports games.


State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said that while the law was enacted with “good intentions,” it definitely needs some “fine tuning.”


Solobay said he, too, has received negative comments regarding the law and he’s hoping that organizations wait before they “throw in the towel.”


“It’s unfortunate that many are considering eliminating the games, but there’s no reason for them not to make some money for themselves,” he said. “There are things that are being misinterpreted.”


It’s with in mind that Solobay said he’s supporting Senate Bill 444 that proposes a series of amendments to the law. The legislation is now in the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee that is chaired by Democratic Sen. Dominic Pileggi.


The legislation calls for the inclusion of those games not named in the law. It also allows for organizations to use proceeds from games of chance for license and background check fees.


Also, it clarifies that the 70/30 proceeds split is only for clubs. All other eligible organizations must use the proceeds for their own public interest purposes and those making less than $2,500 a year are exempt from submitting annual reports.


“We definitely know there are some problems with the existing law,” Solobay said. “And, the state police and liquor control enforcement is over overenforcing the intent of the legislation.”


But, he said the law does provide for more accountability when it comes to the money from the games.


“Everything is doing fine until somebody walks away with the money,” he stated. “Unfortunately, just like everything else, we’re legislating for 99 percent of the people who do it right because of the 1 percent that does it wrong.”


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