Violations to close VFW for 20 days

PAT FRIDGEN

Greencastle VFW Post 6319 will be closed Oct. 19 to Nov. 8, the result of gaming infractions discovered by the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. This is the third time the social club has faced penalties for violating laws related to small games of chance since 2005.

"In February we got caught," said VFW manager Rudy Freshman. "It's the same thing, being over $5,000 payouts per week, and not keeping proper records. We got a 20-day suspension and a $2,000 fine."

The VFW was cited for 23 weeks of exceeding the limit and for records that were not complete and truthful, said John Mathias, Supervisor of the PSP BLCE.

"I'm gathering this isn't the first time. The sanction sounds stiff," he said.

The bureau conducted its investigation from January to May, and Mathias found that the infractions were common to many of the social clubs in his nine-county jurisdiction. He knows the subject of limiting gambling awards is controversial and that lawmakers in Harrisburg are being pressured to change the parameters. For the present, though, he wishes the organizations would do what is legal.

"Bills are introduced about this, to which we have no objection, but that's not what the law currently is. The law is what the law is and the clubs just can't get that message."

He said the bureau is 85 percent complaint-driven, and they investigate once someone reports a licensee.

Freshman challenged one of the findings, that one of the games, a TV bowl, paid out $800 when it couldn't go over $500 for individual prizes. He said the game wasn't set up correctly by the distributor, but the BLCE didn't believe him or the vendor.

The manager was critical of the small games of chance law, which is 20 years old. He supported a limit of $20,000 per week, or even a current proposal of no limit, with 20 percent of the take going to the state.

"Five thousand dollars is nothing," Freshman said. "Harrisburg needs to change things so we can make it. They kick bills around and can't pass anything." He noted the SGOC was taken out of the latest round of talks and advocates would have to start all over to improve the law.

Exceeding the limit purposefully was the only way the VFW could survive, said Freshman. The club subsidizes its restaurant meals because the low cost draws customers. The recession is hurting business and the closure will cause further financial pain, he said. With people spending less because of the economy, the club already cut its kitchen hours, and moved its Thursday chicken night to Friday. On Thursdays and Saturdays the wait staff and bus kids no longer work since the full menu is not offered, only short orders. On Sundays the kitchen is not open at all.

During the closure the club will not receive any income. Freshman and 21 other employees, most of them part-time, will be laid off. With less money coming in, that means fewer charitable donations to the community, he noted.

The proceeds from the gambling are given away in the form of two $1,000 high school scholarships, patriotic speech and essay contests, an annual $500 for the Boy Scout Troop 99 charter, sponsoring of Little League teams, donations to the Martinsburg Veterans Hospital, Rescue Hose Company and other causes.

The money raised from small games of chance is key to the VFW. Members want and need an increase to the weekly limit.

"Now we're not able to sustain ourselves," Freshman said.

They have used some of the money for upkeep of the building, which is allowed per an emergency clause in the law, he said. Over the summer the air conditioning went down, an $8,000 repair. Compressors in some refrigerators also failed. "We couldn't cover these with our normal funds."

Mathias said 100 percent of the gambling proceeds must be used for charity or community interest, not for operating expenses or to keep a club open. The exception was if the public benefited, for example, by being allowed to use the building for meetings or events. The club has allowed other groups to use its facilities through the years.

VFW Post 6319 went through similar sanctions in 2005 and 2008. The penalty the first time was a $2,600 fine, the second time a $1,550 fine and 10-day license suspension.

Another Greencastle club also was cited by the BLCE in 2005. The Frank L. Carbaugh American Legion Post 373 was fined $400 for allowing small games of chance to an organization not licensed, and for failing to maintain complete and truthful records.

Mathias is in the middle of the hot button issue. "Our interest is for the licensed clubs to do it by the law. They must be compliant until the law changes."