State legislators are preparing to ease regulations on small games of chance for local nonprofits, legalize more fundraising games that can be played and increase the prize money to winners.
The state Senate approved amendments to two House bills Wednesday so groups such as volunteer fire departments, churches or boosters won’t have to file cumbersome paperwork that some complained overwhelmed volunteers.
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said the original amendments passed in January 2012 were designed to loosen enforcement for nonprofits and allow them to use more games, but the laws actually ran counter to lawmakers’ intentions. Although many organizations were already using popular fundraisers such Night at the Races, 50/50 raffles, Chinese auctions and pull-tab games, Solobay said the newly amended legislation formally legalizes them.
“It’s going to decriminalize a lot of activities these groups were doing,” Solobay said. “Up until now, a lot of us thought a lot of these games were part of the small games language, but the state Department of Revenue was saying that these were still illegal. But all of these organizations were doing them, and they were technically doing them illegally.”
That would be welcome news to local groups who complained to legislators that changes to the small games rules caused more problems.
Bentleyville fire Chief Ron Sicchitano Sr. said he was unaware of the updated regulations, but noted the previous changes caused fundraising problems for the fire department.
“The way it was before, it wasn’t very easy for us to operate,” Sicchitano said. “Something needed to change.”
Nonprofits without liquor licenses or businesses that make less than $30,000 per year from the games would not be required to report net revenue to the state. Individual prize limits were expanded to $2,000 on single games and organization can pay out up to $35,000 in prizes each week.
The amendments will also allow bars and other businesses that sell alcohol to use “tavern games” as long as they send at least 60 percent of the net revenue to the state. At least half of the remaining 40 percent must be given to a charity. Solobay thinks those changes will send millions to state coffers.
“While this legislation isn’t everything we wanted, it would help remove many of the unnecessary hassles and impediments that local volunteer organizations face,” Solobay said.