When the Pennsylvania House of Representatives goes back into session on Nov. 12, a little-noticed but significant expansion of gambling statewide is expected to come up for a vote.
Amendments to the Local Small Games of Chance Act would allow 4,500 bars and taverns to seek licenses to conduct daily drawings and raffles as well as sell pull-tabs, splitting revenue with the state.
Full-year tax revenue was estimated to be $62 million to $156 million if 2,000 taverns get the licenses. Estimated tax revenue for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, 2014, is $36 million.
Table games in casinos, Pennsylvania's last major gambling expansion, brought in $103 million in fiscal 2013. The new tax revenue for the general fund would be a godsend to politicians in the coming election year.
The Pennsylvania Senate on Wednesday passed the bill, along with a related bill that allows more gambling at private veterans' clubs, churches, volunteer fire companies, and other groups that serve public or charitable purposes.
Senate Democrats tried to amend the bill to direct the money to the Lottery Fund, which goes to services for older residents. Gov. Corbett also wanted that.
If the bill passes next month, tavern owners expect significant revenue from the games.
"This is important to our survival," said Bob Weimer, who owns Hattrick's Sports Bar & Grill in Hatfield and Hatt's Too in Telford.
Weimer said bar owners were struggling because of beer company price increases and competition from clubs that have rock-bottom prices and that open their doors wide to social members who don't fit regular membership requirements.
Not every bar might apply for a gaming license. The initial cost for a license is $4,000, including the $1,000 application fee, $1,000 investigation fee, and $2,000 for a first-time license. The licenses can be renewed annually for $1,000.
The individual prize limit is $2,000 for a single chance, with a maximum payout of $35,000 a week for a license holder.
In the case of daily drawings and pull-tabs - gambling cards with tabs that can be pulled back to show symbols that have to match to win - the tax is 60 percent, with the tavern owner keeping the rest.
One monthly raffle would also be allowed in taverns, with half the money going to a charity and half split between the bar (40 percent) and the state (60 percent).