Bar owners say ‘cheers’ to new small games of chance law

November 21, 2013
Bartender Michele Hilpert fixes a mixed drink for Brian Joseph of Washington at Hungry Jose’s in Washington. Taverns will soon be allowed to have small games of chance including raffles, pull-tabs, daily and weekly drawings under a change in state law. - Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Local bar owners are raising their glasses to recent changes to the state’s small games of chance law that will now allow various gambling options in their establishments.

While at least one state lawmaker is worried the changes will affect private clubs and nonprofits, Joe Pintola, the former president of Washington-Greene-Fayette Licensed Beverage Owners, isn’t sure there will be such an impact.

He was happy about the change, but predicted small establishments won’t bother with the additional paperwork and regulations that come with the expanded games.

“Every bar won’t qualify. Only a couple thousand (bars) will probably get into this,” Pintola said. “A lot of little bars don’t want to be bothered with the paperwork or the payments or even extra regulations. I’m sure there will be more people coming down to the business and checking on the income.”

Two bills received final approval Wednesday after back-and-forth amendments by the state House and Senate in recent weeks to ease regulations for local nonprofits, increase jackpots and allow more fundraising games. The bills also will allow bar and taverns to now participate, although the majority of profits must go to the state.

Pintola is still unsure which new games the legislation will allow him to hold at his Hungry Jose’s bar in Washington, but he hopes to be able to conduct ticket games.

“We’re in the blind. We don’t know what’s coming down,” Pintola said of the types of games now allowed. “We’d love to do tickets.”

He added that customers often leave his bar to go to neighboring clubs to play games and that it could be a way to keep patrons in his establishment.

That has state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, concerned about how the changes will affect local nonprofit clubs and volunteer fire departments. He said the original intent of the bill was to give those clubs and organizations more options when it comes to fundraising games, but it has instead given them more competition.

“When you talk with the local (American) Legions and VFWs, their margins are so thin to begin with and anything that will cost them customers is problematic,” White said.

“The concern also is that by expanding it to all of these places, it’s not only going to hurt the clubs, but also hurt the (Pennsylvania) Lottery.”

Enforcement of the new law could be difficult with the potential of thousands of bars offering their own games. The law requires 60 percent of the profits to go back to the state, while the remaining 40 percent be split evenly between the bar and a designated charity.

White said it’s a mistake to have the lottery monitor and regulate the profits, and suggested county authorities would do a better job regulating the games.

“There are a lot of hidden costs and unintended consequences with this thing,” White said. “Regulation and enforcement could be a problem.”

Representatives of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Washington could not be reached for comment on the legislation.

White’s Democratic colleague in the Senate, Tim Solobay of Canonsburg, thinks the legislation will be beneficial to the local clubs because it eliminates reporting requirements for volunteer organizations. Other establishments with liquor licenses also do not need to report earnings that are less than $20,000 per year, he said.

“The extensive recordkeeping requirements really placed a burden on our local fire departments, veterans’ groups, and other charitable organizations that rely on games of chance to raise money,” Solobay said. “These changes will give these service groups a break and help them continue their valuable contribution to the community.”

The increase to prize limits and expansion of games will now allow Chinese auctions and Nights at the Races, among other fundraisers, Solobay said.

“We’ve been working on this for years and we’ll continue to work on it,” Solobay said. “Right now, these bills represent a necessary compromise that will help local volunteer organizations that are doing good work for our communities.”

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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