LCB reduces fee for tavern gaming licenses
State Liquor Control Board officials are hoping that lowering the fee for a tavern gaming license will encourage more bars to apply after a slow start for the permits for small games, which were expected to generate millions in revenue.
The LCB voted 3-0 on Wednesday to lower the fee for obtaining a license from $2,000 to $500. The licenses permit a bar to offer pull-tab games, daily drawings and monthly raffles for a charitable or public purpose.
Board Chairman Joseph “Skip” Brion said the LCB was given the authority to reevaluate the fee but could not set it below $500.
“We understood the governor and Legislature wanted more taverns to apply for the tavern license, so we thought lowering it from $2,000 to $500 … would at least help to have people apply,” he said.
The license fee goes into the state’s General Fund after an applicant has passed a background check and been approved by the LCB. Applicants still must pay $1,000 to the LCB for processing and $1,000 to the Gaming Control Board for the background check.
Tavern owners and advocates cheered the change.
“We definitely think that the lowering of the fees is going to encourage a lot more people to get the permit,” said Amy Christie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Tavern Association. “It was cost-prohibitive to spend $4,000 to begin the process. We’re small business; we’re mom-and-pops. … We’re not the Sands Casino.”
Jamie Sue Enscoe, who owns The Beer Garden in Washington Township, Butler County, with her husband, said her tavern gaming license was approved in May, but she has been waiting to pay the fee to see if the LCB would lower it.
“I’m elated. We’re a family-owned business,” Enscoe said. “We have two (private) clubs within close proximity to us, and people like to gamble.”
Private social clubs and nonprofit organizations have been able to offer small games of chance since 1988 and can offer a greater variety of games and raffles. State lawmakers authorized the expansion of small games of chance to most restaurant and hotel liquor license holders last year.
Under the tavern law, bar owners keep 35 percent of game revenue and turn over 60 percent to the state and 5 percent to their municipality.
The law limits single tavern game prizes to $2,000 and weekly prize payouts to no more than $35,000 in any consecutive seven-day period.
Gov. Tom Corbett projected this year that as many as 2,000 bars would have licenses by July, and an early version of his budget anticipated $102 million in revenue from tavern gaming licenses.
Brion said that 34 bars have applied for a license and 21 have been issued. Three more will receive their licenses upon paying the new fee; two applications are being processed.
He said that, because the license fee goes directly to the general fund, it will be up to lawmakers to decide if tavern owners that paid the $2,000 fee will get a refund.
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].