Deadline extension, law changes protect volunteer organizations
Since the Pennsylvania General Assembly updated the state's small games of chance law during the last legislative session, there has been quite a bit of confusion – and many questions – surrounding the new updates and the impact of those updates on the nonprofit organizations and charities in our communities.
I take great care in protecting our volunteer organizations that do so much for our community.
The Small Games of Chance Act had not been updated in more than 20 years and was in need of a modernization.
The legislature's intent with the legislative updates was to increase prize limits to help volunteer fire and rescue companies, veterans' groups, booster clubs and others raise money for the projects that benefit our communities, while maintaining accountability and control measures to ensure consumer protection.
Under the old law, every penny raised through a raffle, punch card or ripoff ticket must have been used for a public interest and not for the organization's operating expenses – unless, of course, the organization operates for the benefit of the public, such as a fire or rescue company. The new law allows organizations to keep up to 30 percent for their operating expenses.
Also, another update allows 50-50 raffles. Under previous and long-standing law, these would have been against the law.
This helps ensure that more organizations are operating their games legally.
According to the state police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, the agency charged with enforcing the law for those organizations with liquor licenses that conduct small games of chance, far more warnings are issued than citations, and most of those deal with administrative violations, rather than criminal actions.
To address these changes, the LCE held public information sessions to explain enforcement. It is fair and reasonable that the bureau outline the entire law, not just the changes.
Some laws that came as a surprise to some volunteers have been law since 1982.
These organizations are the lifeblood of the 187th District and I try to protect their ability to operate in the charitable spirit the many volunteers exhibit.
My staff and I have been listening to the concerns from groups in the 187th District for the past few months, and the majority of questions and concerns we're hearing deal with the original act and not the changes made by Act 2 of 2012.
Please know this continues to be a very important issue to me and I have been working with my colleagues on a legislative remedy.
I was recently appointed to the House Gaming Oversight Committee, which is set to consider legislation in early February that will make some needed clarifications to address some of the concerns of the community groups, so that they can continue to carry on their great works and to ensure that transparency and accountability are maintained.
Specifically, we are looking to address these concerns raised by local groups:
·Definition of a public interest charity. This will help those public interest charities be able to raise money for their own charitable purposes.
·Addition of new games so that games that are already being played as part of community fundraisers will be legal.
·Change of when the money can be spent – from within the same calendar year to 12 months following the raising of the proceeds.
·Availability of paper forms.
·Permission for an organization holding games at another organization's licensed premise and at the same time.
·Change of secretary to treasurer for background checks.
·Removal of the need for a limited occasion license.
·Clarification of the license process and requirements based on the amount of proceeds.
·Ability to keep a baseline sum of proceeds for operating expenses for non-public interest charities.
·Clarification that the LCE does not have enforcement powers over small games violations with organizations that solely have a special occasion liquor permit.
·Various record-keeping requirements adjustments.
Also of note, the Department of Revenue has agreed to extend its deadline for annual and semi-annual reports from Feb. 1, 2013, to Feb. 1, 2014.
This extension was given so that clubs can use the time to obtain all the data that is needed to comply.
Finally, the issue is so important that I am working on the changes above and planning another meeting in our district, to address issues that may still require attention.
If you have any questions about the law or the new updates, please feel free to contact my office in New Tripoli at 610-760-7082.