Virtual raffle bill created to help Pa. volunteer fire departments

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A year of social distancing has many volunteer fire departments’ financial situation up in smoke. Not being able to hold regular, in-person fundraisers has taken a toll. A state bill has been created by a local representative to help.

This bill will allow fire departments to host the same games-of-chance they’re known for in-person, online.

“Their fundraising capabilities were taken out from under their feet,” Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette, Westmoreland) said.

Bursting into burning buildings — that’s part of the job. But it’s also to fund it, and no one was ready for the four-alarm fury brought by COVID-19.

“It made things that we would normally do as fundraisers a little more difficult — and some impossible,” Colonial Park Fire Chief John Fogg said.

Facing the impossible, several stations took to streams to continue raffles, but quickly found ou from state police it’s not legal.

“The small games-of-chance license regulations didn’t really account for online. They were written based on bingos, and in-person raffles and 50-50 tear-offs,” Chief Fogg said.

Enter Representative Ryan Warner. His bill would cut the red tape that comes with virtual raffles.

“It falls under federal statute because it’s open. So we had to put residency requirements in there. So, you have to be a Pennsylvania resident to take part in these,” Rep. Warner said.

Chief Fogg is clear on his thoughts.

“I think any way a volunteer firefighter company can raise money in this day and age is beneficial to everyone, including the public,” Chief Fogg said.

He says rural companies are hit the hardest by event cancellations — and add this on top of a volunteer shortage crisis — facing fires may be easier.

“It’s a lot of information to keep up with for anybody that’s being paid to do it. Let alone on the volunteer fire service side when you’re trying to do things for free and do things right,” Chief Fogg said.

“These are the same people that will come into your house at 2 o’clock in the morning to pull you out of a burning building to save you and your family, and they do it for free. So to me, that’s the least we can do for them,” Rep. Warner said.

The bill would allow departments to host these virtual games of chances until May 2022 or as long as an emergency declaration is in place. Warner hopes to present the bill on the house floor next week.

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