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Pa. Senate says yes to letting bars offer gambling

by: Harold Brubaker - - posted on: 19-Nov-2013

The Pennsylvania Senate approved a major expansion Monday of gambling in the state that would let bars apply for a license to conduct raffles and other games, splitting revenue with the state.

The measure, amending the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act of 1988, passed by 34-15. The House approved similar legislation last week, 102-96.

Taxes on the new games are expected to raise $156 million annually for the general fund if 2,000 bars obtain licenses. By comparison, table games, Pennsylvania's last major casino gambling expansion, brought in $103 million in taxes in fiscal 2013.

Bar owners, especially outside Philadelphia, fought hard for the bill, hoping it will enable them to better compete with veterans' clubs.

"It's not a big deal to Philadelphia, but in some of the counties outside of Philadelphia, there are more VFW posts than there are restaurants and bars," said John Longacre, who owns South Philadelphia Tap Room, Brew, and the American Sardine Bar.

"The VFW posts [practically] give away dollar beers, and they have this gambling - I don't really even consider it gambling - small games that they are allowed to do," said Longacre, president of the Philadelphia Tavern Owners Association.

Attempts to reach the VFW and American Legion for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

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After changes to a version of the legislation passed by Senate on Oct. 23, the VFW posted a statement on its website saying that it had changed its position on the bill from negative to neutral.

VFW posts would be allowed to use 40 percent of their gambling profits on operating expenses, up from 30 percent in the previous version. The clubs would not be able to use the money to pay fines. For a VFW or American Legion, 60 percent of the gambling revenue must go to a charity.

For regular taverns, 60 percent of revenue from gambling would go to the state.

A unit of the state's primary gambling regulator, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, would be in charge of background investigations of bar owners who apply for licenses. Applicants would pay for the investigations, expected to cost $4 million.

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