DALLAS TWP. — When new legislation called for changes to the Small Games of Chance Act, phones lit up in issuing and enforcement offices from the county courthouse to Harrisburg as fundraiser organizers realized their humble gambling events might lead to civil penalties.
To explain current games-governing law, state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, hosted a seminar Thursday at Misericordia University that drew more than 100 community organizers. Boback said 12 pending bills, if passed, will further define how organizations can use gambling to raise money.
“Everybody wants to do it right,” she said, but added that strict limitations on gambling for fundraisers make licensing and fundraiser operations difficult.
Small games of chance licenses are issued from the county treasurer’s office.
Laura Beers, office manager in the Luzerne County Treasurer’s Office, said about 400 small games of chance licenses have been issued in the county. The number probably is lower now because Act 2 has muddied regulations for some and they have not applied out of confusion, she said.
Beers said ambiguity in current laws has her receiving more calls than usual from confused event organizers looking for clarification.
Boback introduced last night’s audience to state Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement Supervisor Todd Merlina, who explained the details.
Throughout his presentation, Merlina lightheartedly acknowledged that Pennsylvanians have been using illegal gambling games as fundraisers for decades — casino night and a night at the races-type events, have always been prohibited — though they have been used with enthusiasm.
Merlina explained some of the biggest and recent changes to small-games law.
* Auxiliary groups, such as a Sons of the VFW or a fire department’s ladies’ auxiliary, cannot obtain their own small-games license.
* Club-license holders — or those that have a liquor license, such as an American Legion or Moose Lodge — may keep up to 30 percent of the proceeds for business operating costs and donate 70 percent to a public-interest organization, while limited-occasion license and regular-license holders still have to give 100 percent of proceeds minus the cost to run the game.
Many organizations that use gambling for fundraising function as public-interest groups and benefit directly from the games.
* While records-keeping always has been required by law, organizations will have to report proceeds electronically or yield their annual license renewal. Organizers also must account for all members, and the executive officer and secretary must undergo a criminal background check.
* The weekly payout allowed has increased five-fold. While before organizations could award up to a $5,000 grand prize in a week, Act 2 allows up to $25,000 in an operating week. With greater payouts allowed, organizations can solicit from more players.