Bill would repeal small-games law
HARRISBURG — A Washington County lawmaker will introduce legislation to repeal the small games of chance law for which he voted less than a year ago.
Former supporters of the law, which increased prize levels for the games, describe an uprising of sorts among leaders of clubs, fire companies and fraternal groups who initially thought it would be the ticket to financial survival.
Rep. Pete Daley, D-Washington, who will introduce the repeal next month, said he heard widespread criticism from clubs that claim they might go out of business or be crippled by burdensome regulations.
“Why are some talking about closing their doors? The reporting requirements were absolutely crazy,” Daley said.
Daley was not the only one who thought it was a good idea at the time. The House on Jan. 25 agreed with Senate amendments in a 178-10 vote and sent the bill to Gov. Tom Corbett for his signature.
“Nobody really looked at the bill,” said Tony Bartock, secretary of a nonprofit affiliated with the Uniontown Knights of Columbus.
He said his group has not been hurt as much as some organizations, but the law has not helped its finances.
“I’d like to see it repealed,” said Mike Gaydos, financial officer for American Legion Post 51 in Uniontown. The law presents a “real serious” financial problem for the post in a difficult economy. It requires donating 70 percent of proceeds from small games to charity.
The law “absolutely” hurt financially, said George Barnhart, financial officer for the Masontown American Legion Post 427. “We’re just waiting to see what the legislators will do in January.”
A push to repeal, or at least amend, the bill likely will be an early theme of the 2013-14 session. Daley introduced a repeal bill in the session that ended Nov. 30.
Daley might have powerful Republican allies. Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, said a repeal might be extreme but changes are needed.
“We want to exempt some organizations and maybe relax some of the requirements. We need to take a good look at it,” Scarnati said.
Daley acknowledges it is the fault of legislators who voted for it. He claims Republicans running the House “jammed it down our throats.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Camp Hill, defends the law known as Act 2, argues against a repeal and denies any strong-arm tactic or maneuvering. Lawmakers introduced the bill during five sessions with support from Republicans and Democrats, she said.
The law increases limits for prize payouts from $500 to $1,000 for daily drawings and from $5,000 to $25,000 for weekly drawings. Monthly raffles could increase from $5,000 to $10,000.
It includes stricter enforcement measures and penalties for organizations that do not comply with the regulations, Delozier said.
Under a 1988 law, virtually all revenue from the games went to charitable causes except for a small portion kept for operational expenses, Delozier said. The law now allows clubs and veterans groups to keep 30 percent of money raised through prizes.
For clubs that followed the law, getting to keep a percentage should be “a windfall,” Delozier said.
When the law took effect March 3, it had “near-universal support” because people saw it as “a boon to fiscally strapped volunteer fire departments, VFWs and the like,” said Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Uniontown. “Since then, these groups have had time to digest the full contents of the bill — including the onerous reporting requirements — and they are not happy.”
Mahoney said many groups view more extensive bookkeeping and financial reporting requirements as a liability to their continued existence, and don’t consider higher prize limits a fair tradeoff.
Act 2 did not establish a deadline for an annual report. The Department of Revenue set Feb. 1.
Elizabeth Brassell, a spokeswoman for the department, said it is considering a delay at the request of several Democratic senators.
Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Franklin County, said he does not oppose “tweaking the law,” but he acknowledged it often is difficult for the Legislature to go back to an issue that took years to complete.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405or [email protected].