Phila. bar owners underwhelmed by game options

Posted: January 18, 2014

After an hour-plus presentation Thursday on how to apply for a tavern gaming license, Nate Ross, a partner in the New Wave Cafe in Queen Village, had this question for the state officials:

"Why would any of us in this room bother with this?" he asked rhetorically to loud applause from other bar owners.

To Ross, who was among the roughly 270 people who attended an information session at the Convention Center, it would make much more sense for politicians to allow bar owners to install a combination of video poker and slot machines to help fill budget gaps.

"This is certainly not the answer," Ross said of the plan to introduce tavern daily drawings, lottery-like pull-tab cards, and raffles that benefit charity.

The law allowing those forms of gambling was approved by Gov. Corbett on Nov. 27. The state Liquor Control Board, the Department of Revenue, and the Gaming Control Board have been scrambling since to establish procedures for licensing.

Applications can be filed starting Jan. 27, but there might not be many applications, based on Thursday's reaction among tavern owners and others in the industry.

"Business owners are in this to make a profit, not for another headache," A.J. Moore, a consultant, told the state officials.

For years, bar owners have sought the right to offer small games of chance, in part to compete with private clubs, such as veterans' groups, which have long sold chances.

But as it is, the application process will be arduous and costly while the money is underwhelming.

"It's very disappointing," Ross said later.

For example, pull-tabs require a 65 percent payout to prize-winners. That means if the bar sells 1,000 cards for $1 each, $650 must go to prizes, leaving $350. Of that, 65 percent goes to the state and the host community, leaving $122.50 to pay expenses, including perhaps $25 for the actual cards.

After taxes, a bar owner might make $90 selling $1,000 in chances, said Bob Weimer, president of the Bucks/Montgomery County chapter of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage Association.



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