War waged against Small Games of Chance law

November 30, 2012
State Rep. Pete Daley speaks Friday at a news conference about the state’s small games of chance law. Behind Daley, from left, are state Reps. Brandon Neuman, Jesse White and Rick Saccone, state Rep.-elect Pam Snyder and state Sen. Tim Solobay. (Linda Metz/Observer-Reporter)

DONORA – A group of local legislators Friday vowed to abolish Pennsylvania’s current Small Games of Chance law that has put local veterans organizations, fire departments and other nonprofit organizations at a disadvantage.

“We’re going to fight, absolutely fight, to abolish this legislation,” said state Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-California, who called for and led the legislative contingent at a news conference at the Donora American Legion.

Joining Daley were state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, and state Reps. Jesse White, D-Cecil, Brandon Neuman, D-Canonsburg, Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, and newly elected Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Waynesburg.

Under the changes, organizations 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. Prior to the changes, the organization could not keep any of the proceeds.

While the new law increased the prize limits for daily and weekly drawings and monthly raffles, organization leaders say it’s not worth the hassle as organizations are required to keep records of the names and addresses of any winner of more than $100; withhold and remit income taxes on winnings; report the number of W-2G forms issued; and report total gross winnings that were reported on the W-2G form.

There are also stipulations that only organization members may sell tickets and only within the club.

Daley, who introduced legislation to repeal the changes to the law, said he has heard from numerous organizations and many of them are worried that the changes, especially the reporting requirements, could lead to the organizations closing.

In response, Daley started a petition campaign this year against the legislation. He said he has obtained thousands of signatures that he plans to send to Harrisburg in favor of revamping the law.

“My legislation will repeal the act, which as we’ve learned since the passage of the new law, wasn’t properly vetted with local organizations. By repealing the act, we will allow time for all stakeholders to come to the table and work out changes that will accomplish the original intent of the updates to the law,” Daley stated.

However, the Legislature won’t be able to do anything about the law until next year, as the legislative session ended Friday. In the meantime, Daley and his colleagues plan to call on Gov. Tom Corbett and demand a moratorium on the reporting requirements that are to take effect before then.

“We’re going to plead with the governor to use good sense,” Daley said.

“Our intent was never to do what’s going on right now,” said Solobay. “Our intent was to get money back into your hands.”

A firefighter for 35 years, Solobay said he understands the need for volunteer departments to raise a substantial amount of money to keep afloat. “It’s just not working,” he said.

White said the legislation was formulated by legislators who had more book smarts than street smarts.

“It needs a good common-sense approach,” he explained.

George Mattis, a supervisor in Redstone Township, Fayette County, and a member of the Republic Volunteer Fire Department, said under the current legislation, “there’s no way any organization can exist.”

“People don’t want to fill out all the forms,” he added.

According to Mattis, the fire department operates on a $140,000 annual budget, of which about $40,000 comes from state grants or local funding. The remainder comes from fundraising efforts such as bingos and tickets.

Russ Miller, commander of American Legion Post 301 in Connellsville, Fayette County, said without immediate changes, his post could face closure after 85 years of existence.

“We’re dying,” he told the legislators. “We need help.”

Miller pointed out that there are four or five clubs in Fayette County that are ready to close, and he doesn’t want his post to join them. The American Legion in Brownsville closed its doors a few months ago.

While many people link the Small Games of Chance law only to fire departments and social organizations, Frankie Bernard pointed out that there are other nonprofit organizations that are being hit.

A volunteer with Community Action Southwest and the Washington County 4-H program, Bernard pointed out that both organizations rely heavily on such fundraising efforts, but heightened restrictions have led them to quit selling tickets and holding raffles.

“They couldn’t deal with the paperwork,” she said. “The law is not only affecting firefighters, it’s affecting children.”

Linda Metz has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2000, covering Washington County courts and politics, as well as the city of Washington. She previously was employed by the Tribune Review. She is a graduate of Point Park College, now a university, in Pittsburgh.

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