Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lawmakers OK gambling expansion at Pa. bars

November 19. 2013 10:43AM
MARC LEVY Associated Press

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HARRISBURG — Thousands of bars in Pennsylvania will be able to offer small games of chance after Gov. Tom Corbett signs a bill given final approval by lawmakers on Monday in the state’s largest expansion of gambling since table games at casinos, bringing millions in tax revenue to the state treasury.

The 34-15 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate came without debate. The bill narrowly passed the House last week, 102-96, over the objections of lawmakers who are traditionally opposed to the expansion of gambling or those who worry that it would draw business away from veterans clubs that also serve liquor and are allowed to raise money through the games.

Some opponents also worried that the gambling would hurt revenue for programs for the elderly that are traditionally underwritten by the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Corbett’s office did not comment on the passage, but a spokesman said the Republican will sign the bill.

Sens. John Blake, D-Archbald and John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, voted in favor of the bill while Sens. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township and John Gordner, R-Berwick, were among the 15 voting against the bill.

Bar owners have sought legalized gambling for three decades after lawmakers gave private clubs and volunteer organizations — VFW posts, American Legion halls, volunteer firefighting squads, and Moose and Elks lodges — the ability to raise money through the games.

Top lawmakers threw their support behind it this year as they searched for additional revenue for a state government budget that is expected to be under considerable stress next year.

Pennsylvania last expanded gambling in 2010, allowing table games at slot-machine casinos, as a way to prop up a recession-wracked budget.

Corbett’s office has estimated the gross profits from the gambling will be $260 million a year. It estimated that 60 percent, or about $150 million a year, would go to the state; 5 percent, or about $13 million a year, would go to a bar’s home municipality; and the rest would go to the bar owners.

The Corbett administration said the new gambling is expected to reduce the lottery’s sale of instant games by $25 million and hurt the lottery’s ability to get more bar owners to carry lottery products.

Under the bill, about 4,500 bars and taverns could seek licenses to conduct pull-tab games, daily drawings and tavern raffles. Individual prize limits would be $2,000 for a single game and $35,000 over seven days, while raffles would be limited to one a month.

State budget analysts expect that about 2,000 bar owners will get licenses, based on the experience of Indiana.

To neutralize some opposition, the bill would let the private clubs and volunteer organizations keep more of their gambling profits by relaxing requirements on how much must go to public interest or charitable purposes.

A companion bill passed by the Senate last month would expand from six to eight how many games clubs and organizations can offer, and it would raise some maximum prizes. A House vote is expected this week.

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