Of the thousands of taverns across the state eligible to apply for the newly created gaming licenses, only a few have applied and just one received approval to hold the games.
The applications became available on Jan. 27 after a statewide outreach, including an informational seminar in Wilkes-Barre that attracted hundreds of retail liquor license holders.
But to date the response has been slow, according to the numbers provided by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which issues the licenses. The pace raised concerns about whether the state would receive the millions in revenues it budgeted with the passage of Act 90 of 2013.
“We have 10 applications so far, four of which have been sent back,” Stacy Kriedeman, a PLCB spokeswoman, said Wednesday. That day the agency issued the first and only license to the Midway Tavern in Adams County to hold raffles, pull-tab games and daily drawings.
The PLCB is processing three licenses, and two more, one each from Huntington and Delaware counties, are under review, Kreideman said. She declined to identify from which counties the other applications originated.
The application, more than 30 pages, background checks, fingerprinting and photographs, plus the costs, record keeping and reporting requirements turned off some tavern owners at the Jan. 24 seminar. The return on their investment also seemed too small to some.
Andy Partash, who along with his brother Mike owns and operates several local bars and restaurants, didn’t attend the seminar, but said he spoke to others who did. Based on those conversations, Andy Partash said he’ s not taking a chance on getting a license.
“I don’t have any interest,” Partash said.
Bars, restaurants and a few other retail liquor license holders will have to pay at least $4,000 for the gaming license. The application fee alone costs $2,000 and is nonrefundable. The PLCB takes half and state Gaming Control Board gets the other half to conduct a background check. If approved, the license costs $2,000 and from there on $1,000 annually to renew it.
After the games get in gear, the state’s cut is 60 percent of the net revenues and the host municipality takes another 5 percent. The remainder is divided among the winners of the games, the operating costs and the license owner.
Partash said an owner would end up with a 7 percent share, or $70 after selling $1,000 worth of pull tab tickets. To make back his $4,000, Partash said, “you got to sell a lot of pull tickets.”
The roll out could have been better, Ron Savitski acknowledged, and the law could be tweaked to provide the tavern owners a break at the start.
Savitski, of Wernersville, who sells small games of chance supplies and equipment to social clubs, researched the law and created a guide for tavern owners. It’s available online at a cost of $18.95, he said.
He recommended that the state “give the bar owners some slack to allow them to recover their initial investment.” Rather than taking out the 65 percent of net revenues at the start, the tavern owner takes 100 percent and the split doesn’t begin until the owner is made whole, he said.
Savitski also suggested the state treat the new gaming law “similar to setting up a lottery operation” in which the equipment is provided for free to a tavern owner. A pull tab machine run around $7,000 and holds 8,000 tickets that also have to be purchased.“Why not do the same thing for this?” he asked.
With some changes the law would be more attractive to tavern owners and the state could make its money because people play the games. He said he spoke from experience from having been the president of a large VFW social club that had gambling.
“If it was really viable for the bar owner, it would be a good investment,” Savitski said of the tavern gaming license.