Tavern gaming bill moves closer to Pennsylvania governor's signature

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HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania taverns will be allowed to offer raffles, pull tabs and daily drawings under legislation the Senate sent Monday to Gov. Tom Corbett, whose spokesman says he will sign it.

Bars and taverns have lobbied for years for permission to offer at least some of the games of chance available to patrons of fraternal and social clubs. Those organizations had rallied against extending gaming into commercial establishments, but their protest was quieted by changes, in that bill and another, that would benefit them. For instance, the clubs will be given greater control over their gaming revenue.

The Senate approved the final version of the bill without discussion by a 34-15 vote, sending it to Mr. Corbett, whose press secretary, Jay Pagni, said he will sign it. The House narrowly passed the measure -- by a 102-96 vote -- last week.

The expansion of gaming is expected to bring $156 million per year into the state general fund, according to an estimate by the governor's budget office. Tavern gaming revenue will be taxed by the state at 60 percent, with an additional 5 directed to the host municipality.

Mr. Corbett earlier had asked that the revenue be directed into the state lottery fund but was satisfied by the addition of a required annual report on the impact tavern gaming has on lottery funds, which pay for programs for seniors, and the authority to request that legislators replace any drop in lottery funding.

The governor's budget office used the state of Indiana to estimate that 2,000 establishments will obtain a tavern gaming license. The executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association has said the organization believes the availability of gaming will lead to an increase of crime in and around taverns.

Social and fraternal clubs will be allowed under the legislation to use an additional portion of their gaming proceeds -- 40 percent, up from 30 percent -- for their own operations. The remainder of the revenue must be used for public interest purposes.

The House also approved a partner bill that would, among other changes, make clear that groups like veterans organizations can direct the public-interest portion of the revenue to their own charitable purposes. Clubs had complained about how the law restricted the use of that money.

That legislation now returns to the Senate.

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.

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