The Pennsylvania gaming industry is the third-largest in the United States. And its interests are greatly protective of maintaining status quo, says one state lawmaker.
State Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette) is seeking to permanently change the state’s laws on how charities are permitted to fundraise. But he says efforts to allow nonprofits to fundraise online have been met with much resistance from the state’s powerful and influential gaming industry.
There is huge pushback from the casino industry and the Department of Revenue,” Warner told KDKA.
The Pennsylvania Revenue Department oversees charitable fundraising. The department has voiced concerns that charitable raffles online might cut into the state-operated online lottery.
Under Pennsylvania’s present statutes, Pennsylvania charities can only legally accept cash or check for raffle-related games and drawings.
Level Playing Field
Warner believes the state is long overdue to modernize its statutes regarding charities and how they raise money to operate. Diane Unkovic, president of the Pittsburgh Symphony, agrees.
“My daughter, my son… No one I know under the age of 50 has a checkbook anymore,” Unkovic opined.
Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein, who handles special raffle and small games of chance permits for nonprofits, added to KDKA that “the law is antiquated.”
“If you can gamble online, you should be able to buy a raffle ticket online,” he stated.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed legislation amid the COVID-19 pandemic that temporarily allows charities to accept money over the internet. Since state emergency health orders barred nonprofits such as fire companies and veterans groups from hosting in-person gatherings, the legislation allowed them to conduct fundraising events online.
The temporary legislation, however, is to expire in May. Warner is working with his elected colleagues in Harrisburg in hopes of making the provisional statute permanent. But he says many politicians are hesitant to lend their support because of much opposition raised from the casinos, which say such online charitable gaming threatens their iGaming operations.
Warner has one supporter by way of state Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon).
“This could be an answer for a long-term non-COVID problem in Pennsylvania, which is funding for our volunteer fire companies and to avoid that inevitable, if we keep going down the path we’ve been going down, where every municipality is going to have to insert a fire tax into their code,” Diamond said last year. “This is a great solution to our volunteer fire companies.”
Casinos Recently Dealt Online Loss
Pennsylvania’s gaming industry isn’t singling out charities. The casinos in 2018 sought to block the Pennsylvania Lottery from offering online lottery reel games that mimic slot machines
Seven casinos united to file an injunction in state court to impede such games, but Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer ruled in favor of the PA Lottery last May.
Jubelirer concluded that the lottery-based online games are not unique to casino games. Pennsylvania’s casinos have managed just fine despite the iLottery games. Gross gaming revenue from internet slots, table games, and poker fees totaled $1.12 billion last year.
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