State Gaming Control Board to do background checks on tavern owners
HARRISBURG - As part of new duties, the state Gaming Control Board plans to hire four agents to do background checks of tavern owners applying for a license to run small games of chance.
But casino owners don't have to pick up the tab. That cost will be met through fees paid by tavern gaming applicants.
The gaming board anticipates receiving $310,000 this fiscal year and $934,000 next year from a special tavern gaming account, according to budget documents.
The board could do as many as 500 background checks this year and 1,000 checks next year, Gaming Board Chairman William Ryan told House lawmakers this week. That is based on initial estimates of tavern gaming licenses that would be issued.
Only a couple of applications have been received since a formal submission period started Jan. 27, but Ryan considers it too early to gauge interest and notes that briefing seminars were well attended.
Lawmakers gave the job of doing background checks to the gaming board's Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement when they passed the tavern games law last November.
This law established the special account so the casino industry wouldn't be subsidizing a potential competitor for consumers' gambling dollars.
The gaming board's nearly $38 million proposed main budget is underwritten by assessments on the casino industry that are above the state taxes paid by casinos on slots and table game revenue.
Still, with casino revenue declining 1.4 percent in 2013 for the first time, lawmakers questioned what impact tavern games or potentially Lottery keno would have on the casino's business.
The slight revenue decline could reflect a maturing casino market, said Ryan.
"The decline so far has not been steep," he said. "Are we concerned about it? Yes."
The chairman said it is difficult to speculate about keno, but he said the opening of new casinos in New York or New Jersey close to the border could be a competitive game-changer.