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Legislature OKs form of bell jar gambling for nonprofits

ALBANY — The State Legislature gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a longtime goal of veterans groups and volunteer fire departments to help bolster their dwindling funds through a new form of “bell jar” gambling.

In bell jar games of chance, players draw a card or “pull tab” costing up to $2 from a container with a number that matches prizes of up to $500 on one play and up to $3,000 for aggregate play. On Wednesday the Senate approved a measure 46-14 to allow nonprofit clubs and organizations to offer an flashy electronic form of the longtime fundraiser.

The new bell jar games will be glitzier with flashing lights and sounds. Supporters say the game will draw more players and block manipulation of the outcome of the games.

“We want to give them a bell jar machine,” said Senate Gambling Committee Chairman John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope).

The state regulates the gambling devices and gets a cut of proceeds.

Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), however, questioned the legality of the bill. He said the Seneca Nation has threatened a lawsuit to block the use of the electronic bell jar machines. The tribe said the new machines violate the agreement, or compact, with the state that also includes provisions not to compete with Seneca casinos.

“I believe this is a violation of the compact,” Kennedy said. “These are serious allegations . . . Who will negotiate in good faith with New York going forward if, in fact, New York doesn’t keep its word?”

He urged the state to investigate the tribe’s concern and meet with other tribes around the state that also have casinos and noncompete agreements.

The Assembly had already passed the bill. It now will go to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his signature or veto.

Cuomo has supported modernizing and expansion of bell jar games for charities in his state budget proposals.

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