The Pennsylvania House gave approval Wednesday to a bill that could allow thousands of bars to profit from gambling contests called small games of chance while flushing some of the profits into the state's cash-strapped coffers.
The Republican-controlled House voted 102-96, with Democrats largely opposed, to send the bill to the Senate, where final approval is expected next week. Gov. Tom Corbett also has signed on to the concept, which would represent Pennsylvania's largest expansion of gambling since 2010, when table games were legalized in slot-machine casinos.
Under the bill, about 4,500 bars and taverns could seek licenses to conduct pull-tab games, daily drawings and tavern raffles. Individual prize limits would be $2,000 for a single game and $35,000 over seven days, while raffles would be limited to one a month. The state's budget analysts expect _ based on the experience in Indiana _ that about 2,000 bar owners will get licenses.
The bill passed over objections to the expansion of gambling, the lack of time to review amendments inserted Tuesday night and the competition it would create for veterans' organizations that raise funds through gambling and programs for the elderly that are traditionally underwritten by the Pennsylvania Lottery.
"You heard that it's just going to allow the bars and taverns to have three new types of gambling. Just three. I will tell you, you can almost count on it, that that's going to expand in a couple years from three, to four, to five, to six,'' said Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks. "They will not be satisfied. ... And who's going to get hurt? We're going to be hurting many Pennsylvania families.''
Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Cambria, contended that allowing gambling in bars is being motivated solely by a desire to raise money for the state's treasury.
"That's not a reason to put out of business a small charitable organization that holds up municipalities throughout Pennsylvania,'' Barbin said.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, insisted that raising more revenue was no more important than the public policy argument that bar owners had made to lawmakers for what he called a narrow expansion of gambling.
It was a policy decision,'' Turzai told reporters after the vote. "The taverns made, I think, a very cogent, narrowly tailored position that `we, as small business owners, ought to have the same opportunities that service organizations have ... because we're competing in some ways.'''
Corbett's office has estimated the gross profits from the gambling will be $260 million a year. It estimated that 60 percent, or about $150 million a year, would go to the state; 5 percent, or about $13 million a year, would go to a bar's home municipality; and the rest would go to the bar owners.
To neutralize some opposition, the bill would let the private clubs and volunteer organizations that are allowed to raise money through gambling _ such as VFW posts, American Legion halls and Moose and Elks lodges _ to keep more by relaxing requirements on how much must go to public interest or charitable purposes.
A companion bill passed by the Senate last month would expand from six to eight how many games clubs and organizations can offer, and it would raise some maximum prizes. A House vote is expected Monday.