A Pennsylvania House panel is considering proposed legislation that could lead to further changes in the state’s Local Option Small Games of Chance Act.
State Rep. Dan Moul, R-Gettysburg, introduced House Bill 1598 this summer. The legislation addresses a number of issues related to the act, which was passed into law in 1988 and has served as a mechanism for smaller organizations – veterans groups and fraternal clubs being among them – to operate gaming machines as a revenue generator.
In his bill, Moul introduces a number of proposed amendments to the act, including a plan to increase the current maximums in place for winnings, which include $35,000 for weekly prizes and $2,000 for specific games.
At a House Gaming Oversight Committee meeting last week, Moul said his changes would benefit the state as a whole since clubs holding gaming licenses direct at least 60 percent of their proceeds toward a designated fund known as “public interest purposes.”
“This legislation really has been in the making for many years,” Moul said. “What we need to get under control is the payoff. The commonwealth is leaving a ton of money on the table by not addressing this.”
Moul’s bill also takes up other issues, including enforcement and investigation of establishments in violation of state law.
During testimony, Kevin O’Toole, executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, expressed concerns with some aspects of the bill, including funding changes linked to enforcement and investigating alleged offenses.
One aspect of HB 1598 could take ambiguity out of the legalization and regulation of skill-based machines. There are reportedly thousands of them at establishments across Pennsylvania, though their legality has been questioned.
“Should the General Assembly decide that the [Gaming Control Board] needs to be involved in the regulation of games of skill, a funding mechanism needs to be established,” O’Toole said. “It would be inherently unfair to require the board to cover the cost with funds from the other casino and VGT regulated entities.”
The House panel also heard from Maj. Scott Miller of the Pennsylvania State Police, who heads the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. Miller said changes to the act would be prudent.
“Illegal gambling is growing in the commonwealth, outside traditional venues, clubs, restaurants and bars, to convenience stores and malls and storefronts,” Miller said. “The gambling devices remain unregulated and unmonitored. The operation of these devices … are ripe for corruption. There is no consumer protection.”
Several representatives of the fraternal clubs and other organizations also went before the panel and shared how proceeds from gaming machines have been an important lifeblood into operations.
Ted Mowatt, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Fraternal and Social Organizations, said proceeds from the gaming machines have benefited Pennsylvanians and the entities themselves in a number of ways.
Mowatt shared with the panel how his organization has attempted to work with lawmakers “to pass legislation updating small games of chance and bingo laws, based on the premise that these bills were not an extension of gambling, but a mechanism for these nonprofit organizations to increase the amount of money they can raise and contribute to other local charities.”