Among the cases crossing the desk of York County District Attorney Tom Kearney, there are bigger worries than the small games of chance that charity organizers don't even realize are illegal.
Nonetheless, about two years ago he made a proclamation that he'd start to prosecute cases involving quarter auctions, as soon as he realized the illegal games were benefiting numerous local fire halls, churches and other nonprofits.
At the auction, recipients bid on items, "like something from Mary Kay or whatever," by putting a quarter in a bucket, Kearney said. The recipient places a chip with an identifying number on it in a second bucket.
A vendor pulls a numbered chip from a separate bucket. The chip matching the chip a vendor pulls wins that item, not the highest bidder. That's what Kearney said makes the
game illegal. Winners are selected by pure chance.
The games are illegal because they aren't among the noted legal activities in the state's small games of chance legislation, said state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township. The legislator recently added an amendment to a Senate bill to change that.
The House of Representatives last week approved the amendment to add coin auctions, or quarter auctions, to the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act.
The amendment was added to Senate Bill 444, which updates the act. The amendment was approved by a vote of 183-15, with all of the York County delegation voting in favor, and the entire bill is expected soon to be before the House for a vote.
'Awkward position': Kearney applauded Grove's amendment, saying the omission puts prosecutors such as himself in "an awkward position."
The choice is whether to prosecute churches and other nonprofits or turn a blind eye to illegal activity because it's "good people doing something illegal for a good cause."
Rather than prosecute, he decided to make a big public announcement that the games are illegal -- and announce his intent to prosecute. That seemed to squelch the auctions, he said, but charities called to complain.
"Sometimes the best way to get a bad law removed is to enforce it," he said.
Grove said the auctions are successful money generators in his district, benefiting everything from fire companies to funds for cancer patients. The amendment will, if the entire bill is passed, address an oversight in outdated legislation, he said.
"I don't imagine Tom Kearney wants to arrest ... the cancer patient for violating small games of chance, or bust a fire department trying to raise money," Grove said.
Kearney said he's hoping for the bill's successful passage.
"Let's face it. (Prosecuting charities) is not the highest priority on my list. I think it's excellent that Representative Grove did this, and if he needs me ... I'll go up and testify on the hill."
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at email@example.com.