The state gambled and, it appears, has lost

March 9, 2014

Last year, lawmakers in Harrisburg rolled the dice on a law allowing bars, social clubs and other establishments to operate small games of chance.

So far, it looks like the gamble has not paid off. To say the least.

In fact, on this one, the state more closely resembles one of those pitiable souls who wanders into the casino full of optimism and swagger on a Saturday night, only to stumble out a few hours later, having gambled away the family hardware store, the vacation savings and the kids’ college fund.

When legislators approved the measure, which was designed to expand the number of games available at neighborhood saloons and bring them out into the sunshine of legality, it was projected that the proliferation of pull tabs and 50-50 raffles would yield a full $102 million for state coffers next year. Well, if the current pace of applications is any indication, the state will be extremely lucky to get not $102 million or $10 million or even $1 million. $100,200 might be more like it. And that could be excessively bullish.

At a meeting of the state Senate Appropriations Committee last month, it was revealed that, to that point, a grand total of six applications had been received. Six. Two of those were deemed incomplete. KDKA-TV reported last week that an additional four applications had since trickled in. That’s progress, we suppose.

At the Appropriations Committee meeting, one senator, Jake Corman, from Centre County, suggested that the labyrinth bar and club owners had to navigate was “onerous,” and, from what we can tell, he certainly has a point – an applicant has to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on four separate forms, go to a fingerprinting center affiliated with the FBI to get fingers and hands scanned, and then fork over $2,000. Then, once this is done and the games can get under way, 60 percent of their proceeds would be shipped to Harrisburg.

Incomplete applications cost even more to process, and with four forms to finish there’s every likelihood that some oval will not be filled or a middle initial will be left out somewhere. Another concern: Any small-games violations would potentially jeopardize an applicant’s liquor license.

It stands to reason that many bar and social club proprietors have figured the amount of money they would receive would be so minuscule that it’s just not worth the hassle or, perhaps, they would prefer to just leave the transactions under the table.

And it could be that the folks who oversee the local watering holes have stumbled on an insight that has eluded the powers that be in the state Capitol – whether it’s through the casinos that are approaching McDonald’s or Subway in ubiquity, the ever-present Pennsylvania Lottery, Powerball, or, probably before too long, online gaming, the state is as saturated with gambling opportunities as the Mon Wharf at flood stage. Keep in mind also that one of the primary selling points of Gov. Tom Corbett’s failed bid to have the lottery’s operation outsourced to a British company is they would have expanded it into bars and restaurants, with yet more games and more opportunities for people to part with their cash.

There is a point, we all know, where everyone but the most compulsive gambler finally says, “Deal me out.”



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