Local business owners say less expensive tavern gaming licenses will not be enough to bring the surge of applications the state hoped for when it first allowed them to hold small games of chance earlier this year.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed a bill this year that allows tavern owners to apply for licenses to hold pull tabs, daily drawings and raffles. The move was expected to raise millions of dollars in tax revenue, but only 21 taverns statewide had received the licenses as of July 30. Three recipients are in York County, and five more are in adjoining counties.
To build interest, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board lowered the cost of a small gaming license from $2,000 to $500 last week, a change allowed by new legislation. But businesses still have to pay $2,000 in application fees and background checks and $1,000 to renew the license each year.
The cost is only part of what has kept taverns from pursuing the licenses.
"If you have a gambling violation, it's tied to your liquor license," said Ronda Zeigler, co-owner of Midway Tavern in Conewago Township and Franklin House Tavern in Hanover. "And our liquor license is our bread and butter."
Zeigler said many tavern owners she has spoken with about gaming licenses are primarily concerned that an error in gaming paperwork could mean losing their ability to sell alcohol because of the way the legislation works.
Costs: That concern did not stop Zeigler and her husband, Barry, from securing gaming licenses for both establishments.
Including the cost of equipment, Zeigler said, she and her husband spent $11,000 to bring gaming to their two taverns, and they do not anticipate coming out ahead soon. For each of the games, businesses may only keep 35 percent of the profits, which is then subject to income tax.
However, Amy Christie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said she thinks the decreased license cost should make gaming less prohibitively expensive. She said her association has lobbied for tavern gaming for 20 years.
"The total fee to get into the game was too high for mom and pop," Christie said. "We think that this is definitely going to make it more attractive to small business owners that want to be able to offer their patrons some kind of entertainment."
She added that despite the changes, taverns still might not profit much.
"These games aren't going to make licensees rich, by far, but it does help people stay (at the business) a little bit longer," Christie said.
Other sites: The Conewago Inn near Manchester and Goofy's Eatery & Spirits near Spring Grove also have gaming licenses.
Tom Roberts, owner of the Conewago Inn, said he purchased the license because he believes the state will eventually expand the definition of "small games" to allow him to install video poker machines. So far, he said he has made a net total of about $500.
"Let's just say I'm not buying a home in Bermuda," Roberts said.
A representative for Goofy's could not be reached for comment.
Not interested: Some tavern owners are still uninterested in gaming licenses. Tracy Marquette, co-owner of Coombs Tavern in York, said she and her husband, Ron, chuckled when they saw the price of licenses had dropped. They don't plan to pursue one, nor do many of the tavern owners they know, she said.
"I just think that it would be more of a headache than an asset, and that's not what our business is about," Marquette said. "Our business is about serving great food and having a relaxing atmosphere."
She said the licenses just seem like a way for the state to drain more money from mom-and-pop businesses.
Zeigler said her taverns, open only to adults 21 and older, are ideally suited for gaming.
"You're always going to have people who prefer private clubs, but for people who don't belong to private clubs or who don't enjoy the private club environment, this is an alternative," Zeigler said.
Ongoing effort: Additional legislation is in the works to further encourage tavern gaming statewide.
State Sen. Richard Alloway, whose district includes a portion of York County, is sponsoring a bill that would stop gaming violations from having any bearing on a business's liquor license. He hopes to forward the bill to a vote in the fall.
"To get the small games (legislation) done was an extremely long process, and unfortunately it doesn't always come out perfect, so we've been making some of these tweaks to help members participate," Alloway said.
In the coming fiscal year, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue expects to make about $1 million from small games, according to press secretary Elizabeth Brassell. When the bill allowing taverns to apply for small games of chance licenses passed, state officials said the move could eventually generate $150 million per year in tax revenue.