Bars slow to take a chance on new betting law

Posted: February 21, 2014

HARRISBURG - The state law passed late last year allowing taverns and restaurants to host small games of chance was supposed to be a win for everyone: merchants, bettors, and Gov. Corbett, who is counting on tens of millions of dollars in new gambling taxes.

But the numbers disclosed in a budget hearing Wednesday didn't sound like a winning bet.

Since the law's passage, only five establishments statewide have even applied for the license.

None has been approved.

All of which left several senators on the Appropriations Committee in a cold sweat, because the Corbett administration's proposed $29.4 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 banks on collecting $102 million in revenue from small games of chance.

The senators, including Chairman Jake Corman (R., Centre), peppered officials from the Liquor Control Board with questions about the sluggish rollout of the new law, which allows bars and taverns to offer pull-tab games, daily drawings, and other forms of gambling. The LCB is responsible for approving the applications for small games of chance.

"We just want to get this thing up and running," said Corman.

The Republican senator noted that bars and taverns lobbied hard for the law, and pointed out that he believed the application process set up by the LCB is onerous and may be deterring establishments from signing up.

The licensing process, among other things, requires applicants to undergo a background check and fingerprinting.

"This rollout is worse than Obamacare," said Corman. "More people signed up for Obamacare than signed up for small games of chance. This from an industry who begged for this."

LCB officials said roughly 16,000 establishments could qualify for small games of chance.

Those officials also hinted Wednesday that some bar and tavern owners may be hesitant to apply because they do not believe they will profit from small games of chance. The law includes a 60 percent tax on the bars' net gaming proceeds.

Amy Christie of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, a trade group representing 2,500 bars, taverns, restaurants, and nightclubs, said she believes the application process has been an obstacle. If that process is streamlined, Christie said, she expects the number of applicants to rise swiftly.

After the hearing, LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman said the agency is taking the senators' concerns seriously.

"We will look into this," she said. "And we will do whatever we can to be helpful, understanding that there is great interest in the success of this program."

Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said the more than $100 million the administration has projected small games of chance will raise in the next fiscal year is based on, among other things, approximately 2,000 establishments being approved to offer them.


acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934

@AngelasInk

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