Lawmaker working to fix tavern gaming: “It’s not working as much as we had hoped”

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So far 21 taverns have gotten small games of chance licenses. The license allows taverns to run pull tabs, daily drawings, and raffles. Lawmakers hoped to raise millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state to host the games, but few are interested. A state senator is working to change that.

“It’s not working as much as we had hoped. I think none of us really realized the barriers that were put up and how cumbersome it would be for these folks,” said Senator Rich Alloway, (R) 33rd District.

To get more taverns to sign up the legislature and Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board lowered the license fee from $2,000 to $500. Applicants must still pay $2,000 dollars for processing and a background check. “An applicant submits an application packet along with $2,000. This non-refundable application fee will not change. One thousand dollars remains with the PLCB for processing and $1,000 goes to the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission for a background investigation,” according to a PLCB news release.

“These folks already go through a process every two years; a criminal background check whenever they renew their liquor license,” said Sen. Alloway. He is the prime sponsor of a bill that aims to make some changes to the license, including eliminating the required 15-year FBI background check. “It seems like we are going back over ground we already covered and then charging a large fee for it,” said Sen. Alloway.

Senator Alloway’s proposal would also give applicants a bigger cut, and separate the small games license from the liquor license. “The small games license we would like to see separate. That is, you have a small games license and you would get a violation, that would go against the small games license, not the liquor license,” said Sen. Alloway.

First License
“Our liquor license is our bread and butter,” said Ronda Zeigler, who along with her husband, owns Midway Tavern in Adams County. “If you have a gaming violation it goes against your liquor license, and that’s a big deal.”

Midway Tavern was the first tavern to receive a small games of chance license In Pennsylvania. “My husband has been lobbying for small games of chance for taverns since 1988, when small games of chance were legalized for private clubs. He’s been lobbying for taverns to get this, so when the law was passed last November that made it legal, we were on the bandwagon,” said Zeigler.

Zeigler said she would like to see some of the proposed changes made to the law, to make the games more lucrative. For one case, or thirty games Zeigler is paying close to $3,500, including a 65% up-front tax that goes to the state. This leaves her with a very small profit. “$26.90, and now we are going to pay income tax on that,” said Zeigler as she calculated how much she makes per case.

Despite the costs, Zeigler said she has no regrets, “It was a lot of money but we just felt it was something that the taverns needed. Plus, it’s a revenue stream. Just like you have a pool table, or a cigarette machine, or ATM machine fees, or the lottery, or anything else. It is a another source of revenue for the tavern,” said Zeigler.

Now that the license fee has been reduced Ronda hopes to get her money back. FOX43 reached out to the PLCB. Spokesperson Stacy Kriedeman said the money comes from the General Fund. A spokesperson with the state said he was not sure where the refund would come from and said the legislature may have to decide.

Senator Alloway his plan would gather more taverns, which means more help for the state. “We want to help them be successful. We want to help them be able to keep the business in the family name. Also, the other side of the coin is, it would generate revenue for the state, revenue that we could put towards things like education, things that we are short in our budget for,” said Sen. Alloway.