Chinese auctions illegal, but tolerated according to gambling legislation
MOUNT CARMEL - Chinese auctions are illegal in some cases; in others, they're legal. In any event, state troopers aren't exactly cracking down on one of the coal region's foremost fundraisers.
Sgt. Jeff McGinnis, a state trooper with Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, led a seminar Monday at the American Legion building, where approximately 130 people were told the ins and outs of updated state law governing small games of chance.
McGinnis explained that just six games governed by small games of chance legislation are legal: punch boards, pull-tabs, raffles, daily and weekly drawings and 50/50 drawings.
Popular fundraising events like Texas Hold'em tournaments, casino nights, vertical wheel games and, yes, Chinese auctions are illegal, in general.
There are three elements to gambling as defined by the state courts: consideration, chance and reward. Remove one of these elements, and the games can be played legally.
For example, if the payouts in the poker tournament are donated in full to charity, and no reward is paid to winners, it's legal. Or, if the buy-in is eliminated and it's simply played casually, it's legal.
"They take away one of these elements. They make it free," McGinnis said of clubs or bars who hold poker tournaments legally.
As for Chinese auctions, he said, "No one really enforces it, but it's illegal." Well, almost. If the auction is run like a raffle, he said, it would then be considered legal.
In any event, he said, "If it's at a local fire company, I'm not coming to charge you."
Gambling legislation was passed in February to, among other things, increase payouts and allow license holders who also hold liquor licenses to use some of the revenue in-house.
Other updates followed in 2012 that put on hold the deadline to begin submitting annual financial reports electronically - from Feb. 1, 2013 to Feb. 1, 2014 - and to add 50/50 chances to the list of games allowed by the small games of chance law.
State police have held seminars since the initial legislation was approved last winter. As McGinnis said, "We're trying to get everyone on the same playing field so that a club in Pittsburgh is doing the same thing as a club in Mount Carmel."
The law on small games of chance is complicated, and the audience asked many questions about how revenue can be spent and about which games are legal and in what circumstance.
McGinnis worked to answer them all.
The seminar was hosted by state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-107, who acknowledged the existence of confusion with regard to the law. He hoped the seminar would sort much of it out for the officers and volunteers of clubs and organizations eligible for small games licenses.
As for Chinese auctions, he said there could be further legislation to remove them from the law.
"If it's not already out there, I'm going to introduce that as an amendment," Masser said of making such auctions legal.