Pa. tavern owners snub new gaming license program

August 1, 2014
Bar owners across Pennsylvania are refusing to cash in on the state’s new tavern gaming license program. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Pennsylvania tavern owners are not cashing in on a new state program that would license them to hold small games of chance.

Just 21 tavern gaming licenses were issued across Pennsylvania since the state Liquor Control Board began in January accepting applications for them, the PLCB announced this week. There are nearly 11,400 current liquor licenses in the state that qualify for gaming, said PLCB spokesman Shawn N. Kelly. Three other such licenses are approved, but their license fees have yet to be paid, Kelly said.

Washington tavern owner Joe Pintola said he predicted early on that bar owners would reject the gaming licenses because of oversight and extensive record-keeping required under the program.

“I didn’t think it would go over,” said Pintola, owner of Hungry Jose’s on South Main Street.

“You are required to keep all of that paperwork for little profit,” said Pintola, former president of the Washington-Greene-Fayette Licensed Beverage Owners organization.

In order to attract more tavern owners to apply for the licenses, state lawmakers lowered the one-time license fee from $2,000 to $500, the PLCB said this week. Taverns, however, are still required to pay $2,000 to have the applications processed.

“More licenses means more revenues for the commonwealth,” said PLCB Chairman Joseph E. “Skip” Brion. “That’s why we took this step.” The license fees are deposited into the state’s general fund, he said.

The tavern gaming license was established last year to ease regulations on small games of chance for nonprofits, increase jackpots and allow more fundraising games. The license also allows those who hold a retail liquor license to offer tavern raffles for a charitable or public purpose, as well as pull-tab games and daily drawings.

The license also permits tavern owners to conduct football pools.

However, Pintola said many tavern owners are choosing to risk getting caught gambling without a license.

He said it would take bartenders away from their customers to keep records on selling 30, $1 shots at winning a game of chance, and a tavern would turn a profit of only $33 on each night’s game.

State Sen. Tim Solobay said tavern gaming was added to the legislation to reach a compromise on efforts to allow nonprofits to hold such games as nights at the races and auctions.

“I don’t know what the compromise is,” said Solobay, D-Canonsburg. “We continue to make criminals out of our clubs, bars and firemen’s clubs.”

He said the state Tavern Association agreed to the gaming law only for the licensing program to be practically ignored after it became law.

Solobay said the state would greatly increase its revenues by licensing video poker games in taverns, but a majority of lawmakers will not support that.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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