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October 26, 2013

Social, vets clubs fret law for bars

- — HARRISBURG – The head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pennsylvania is warning that almost half the VFW posts in the commonwealth will shut their doors if tinkering with the state’s small games of chance laws passed by the Senate clears the state House.

The Senate voted this week to allow bars to begin offering paper-based small games of chance, the sort now available only in social clubs and veterans clubs like the VFW and the American Legion. The issue is expected to be considered by the state House when lawmakers return in November.

Proponents say the measure will help small bars and taverns stay afloat while funneling $150 million in new tax dollars to the state.

Critics like state Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Lawrence County, say the push is a money-grab by lawmakers.

“I’m not too keen on the idea of bars doing small games of chance,” Gibbons said.

Bar owners and the state would split all the money brought in from pull-tab games – 60 percent of the money going to Harrisburg and 40 percent in the pocket of the bar owner. Bar owners would also be allowed to hold charity raffles, with only 50 percent of the proceeds going to the charity. The other half of the money would be split with the state using the same 60/40 division.

Based on the state’s calculations, the plan would provide about $52,000 more for each bar owner offering the small games of chance. State Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland County, said he knows there is opposition to the bill but he pooh-poohed the suggestion that the proposal would drive business away from private clubs. Masser owns a bar in Northumberland County.

“This will just give my (customers) the same opportunity,” he said.

The intent is to provide “mom-and-pop” taverns with a chance to compete with other drinking establishments on a level playing field, Masser said.

Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia County, said the opposition of the VFW was one of the factors that prompted him to vote against the proposal.

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