By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer
The state is the only sure winner in a proposal to expand small games of chance from private clubs into public bars and taverns.
The games, which include popular “pull-tab” tickets sold at most veterans and ethnic clubs, are a reliable source of revenue for the clubs that ultimately benefits community groups the organizations support, according to Tom Hanzes, president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Clubs and Fraternal Organizations.
Hanzes, who lives in Pymatuning Township and serves as quartermaster of Reynolds Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7599, heads the organization that represents 450 clubs across the state, including 39 in Mercer County.
“We have our hands full,” Hanzes said this week, as he prepares for what may happen when the General Assembly reconvenes.
The Senate passed the legislation that would expand the games into bars and “if they have the votes,” the House of Representatives may vote on the bill Nov. 12 or 13, Hanzes said.
“I have grave concerns,” he said of the law, which could cripple already struggling social, ethnic and veterans clubs that dominate the landscape in the Rust Belt of western Pennsylvania.
“We have so many smaller clubs, they’re having a tough time to exist,” Hanzes said.
Bar owners see it differently.
“I think it’s about time,” Ron Dubrasky, who owns the Golden Bear Tavern in West Middlesex said. “I think we should all be on an even playing field.”
Dubrasky said he didn’t think the move would change the business at private clubs, because they serve a different clientele.
“It’s not going to hurt their business at all,” he said. “They’re (club members) still going to stay there,” he said.
But VFW and American Legion post leaders are lamenting the possibility the change will hurt their business.
“We’re quite concerned about it for the future,” said Robert Renner, commander of Wheatland American Legion Post 432.
The tickets are a “good money maker” for the club, Renner said.
There’s also a lot of precise clerical work required of those selling the tickets that bar owners may not be aware of, Renner said.
They’re also not quite the cash cow the Commonwealth may be counting on.
About 4,000 ticket sales each week net the post about $80, Renner said.
It might not hurt the clubs as much as they fear, said Bill Shepherd, a social member of Sharpsville VFW Post 6404.
Shepherd regularly plays the games and said the people who’d most benefit from expanding them into the bar world would be the employees of the taverns because of increased tips from lucky winners.
It wouldn’t cause him to stop frequenting the Sharpsville club, however.
“I actually like the atmosphere here,” Shepherd said. “It’s a more tight-knit crowd.”
Playing the tickets is more of a game than a money maker, he said.
“It’s a break-even” game, he said. “Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. It’s truly the luck of the draw.”