HARRISBURG - A state House bill passed Wednesday looks to legalize Chinese auctions and social card games.

The auctions are referred to as "selective auctions" in the bill, which passed on a 180-4 vote.

Also sought for legalization under the Small Games of Chance Act are poker runs, vertical wheel games, coin auctions and race night games, along with card games like poker and pinochle.

The bill calls for licensed clubs to keep the first $40,000 generated from legal gambling. After that, a minimum of 70 percent of proceeds must go to charity and a maximum of 30 percent can be used in-house to pay bills and make repairs.

As it stands now, the 70/30 split applies to all gambling proceeds.

The bill makes clear that entities acting solely in the public interest, such as volunteer fire companies, can keep all gambling profit for charitable use. It also proposes that required reporting be permitted both in writing and electronically, and for license holders to host events off-site at another license holder's premises.

Supported by the area's state representatives, Kurt Masser and Lynda Schlegel-Culver, the bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

The York Daily Record reported Thursday that similar bills have been sent to the Senate, and that there is no timetable for a decision on the latest proposal.

Pleased with proposal

Chinese auctions and vertical wheel games have long been staples at church block parties. Poker runs and "night at the races" events are frequently used at fundraising events by nonprofit groups.

To many who play the games and those who organize them, it wasn't exactly well-known they were illegal, even among those who had a special event license to host a small game of chance.

Law enforcement has long exhibited a "wink-wink" attitude towards such activities when they benefit what's considered a good cause.

"All the things churches and clubs were doing will now be legal" if the proposed bill is passed into law, said Schlegel-Culver. "It's one of those things where everybody has been doing these things forever, I don't think anybody realized these things were illegal."

Masser and Schlegel-Culver each hosted public seminars last month for license holders to learn more about the existing Small Games of Chance Act. Among concerns raised by the attendees were that games like Chinese auctions were illegal.

"Certainly the Chinese auctions were something the parishes were looking for. I was glad that was part of the bill," Masser said.

Existing legislation allows punch boards, pull-tabs, raffles, daily and weekly drawings and 50/50 drawings to be played at clubs.

Extensive changes were made last year to the small games law by the General Assembly, which included adding 50/50 drawings to the legal games list. It also increased payouts and prize limits. The latest proposal would further raise weekly prize limits from $25,000 to $35,000.

Playing cards

Social card games like poker, rummy and pinochle are detailed in an entirely new chapter proposed for inclusion in state law.

Their potential legalization at social clubs, fire houses and the like comes with many caveats.

Under the proposal, players would be allowed to make wagers against each other only and not against the "house." The maximum total payout would be $100 for a game, $200 for a tournament, and $200 per table when it comes to Texas Hold'em.

If a player is knocked out of a tournament, he could not buy back in.

Card games would have to be played on premises of a licensed club and only among club members. It calls for a limit of 10 players per table, and five tables maximum per club.

No organization could charge a fee to play card games.