Sunbury, Mount Carmel seminars set to educate on changes to small games of chance
SHAMOKIN - State police will host a pair of seminars in Northumberland County aiming to keep officers of private clubs and other groups up to date on changes made to laws governing small games of chance.
Todd Merlina, enforcement supervisor with state police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, will give presentations at 6 p.m. Thursday at Sunbury Social Club and again at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21, at American Legion Post 91 in Mount Carmel.
Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-108) said 45 participants have pre-registered for Thursday's seminar in Sunbury.
"I'm very pleased with that number, to help get this information out," Culver said Friday.
Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107) will host the event in Mount Carmel.
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.
These seminars, conducted statewide since last year by Merlina and two others from Liquor Control, begin with an overview of the differences between gambling that is allowed by law and gambling that is not.
"Once we present that, that really answers a lot of questions for them," Merlina said by telephone Friday.
Liquor Control's 153-slide presentation given at the seminar can be found on the bureau's website.
It lists the only legalized forms of gambling allowed in Pennsylvania: state Lottery, bingo, horse racing, slots and table games and small games of chance - all of which must closely follow laws governing each.
Small games of chance are widely used in social clubs and fire halls. Those that are legal are punch boards, pull-tabs, raffles, daily and weekly drawings and 50/50 drawings, a popular drawing added to the law on Christmas Eve.
What's not allowed, and what may be come as a surprise, are Texas Hold'em poker tournaments, "Night at the Races" events, paddle auctions, casino nights, football pools, basketball brackets, Chinese auctions, vertical wheel games and video gambling devices.
Revenue generated by the legal small games had long been dictated to be used in the "public interest." That's changed with the new legislation, allowing certain clubs up to 30 percent of gaming proceeds for operating expenses.
Payouts have jumped from $500 to $1,000 for individual prizes and from $5,000 to $25,000 for total payouts.
Even with the restrictions eased, Merlina said payout violations are continually discovered.
"We're not talking about $25,000 to $30,000 a week," he said of small overages for the payout limit. "We're talking $80,000, $85,000 a week."
Merlina estimated there are upward of 13,000 small games of chance licenses issued across the state, with more than 3,000 private clubs eligible for both gaming and liquor licenses.
The law is complicated, he admitted, but compliance comes with understanding, and that's the point of the seminars.
"How often do you have state police go out and educate people on new laws? It just doesn't happen," he said.
"The money can really go to good use, and that's our primary goal."