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Senior showdown: McSherrystown card night vs. borough council | FOX43 Finds Out

A group of seniors who have played cards for 20 years are now being charged a fee by the borough. FOX43 Finds Out what's in the cards for the future of the game.

MCSHERRYSTOWN, Pa. — For more than 20 years, no matter what life has dealt them, a group of seniors has come together once a month at the senior center in McSherrystown to laugh, eat, and play cards.

About 50 seniors would show up to the center and pay a $5 buy-in for the monthly card club.

Sharon Ingram, who used to host the monthly event, says that money would pay for a meal and then the winners would walk away with the leftover cash.

"If we had a big crowd, $25, $20, 2 $15's, and a couple of 10s and 5s, and the rest went to the banquet, the food," said Ingram.

The group would also pay $20 back to the borough, for things like utilities and paper towels.

Then, back in January, the McSherrystown borough council voted to charge $100 to anyone who uses the senior center for a private event. It happened when Mark Staub took over the monthly card night. He says the group couldn't afford that and because of that fee, the event folded. 

"You wouldn't believe the seniors that call me. When are we back? When can we go back? I have no answer," said Ingram.

The organizers don't think an event for seniors at the senior center should come with a fee. They took the issue to a borough council meeting.

Ingram said, "If I had a birthday party or gender party, I would pay you the $100. This is seniors. Some of the board members that night, council members, stood up for us."

Joe Von Sas is one of the McSherrystown Council members who stood up for the seniors. He said, "I think there's a good solution rather than charging $100."

FOX43 Finds Out has also been in contact for weeks with McSherrystown Borough Manager Michael Woods.

He declined an in-person interview but did answer some of our questions by email.

Woods says the rental fees are used to offset the cost of upkeep and maintenance and they are charged to any group or organization that wishes to rent the facility.

When we asked, "What would be your message to seniors who have been coming to the event for 20+ years and are on fixed incomes? I’ve been told there are several people over the age of 90 that attend the monthly event."

Michael Woods responded as follows: 

The Pennsylvania Office of Aging offered its portion of the Community/Senior Center to the “card club” free of charge but they are not willing to accept the offer. 

From what the card club mentioned at our public meeting on February 22, 2023, the “card club” charges a fee to play cards in which the winners, to the Borough’s understanding, received prize money or prizes. PA Dept. of Revenue has indicated that all forms of gambling are illegal unless authorized by law. 

Organizations wishing to have small games of chance are required to obtain a license. The county treasurer oversees the licensing of such organizations. Small games of chance include, among other things, raffles, daily/weekly drawings, punch boards, and pools. 

The PA Dept. of Revenue defines a “pool” as an activity where a person pays an entry fee for a chance to win cash or merchandise prizes based on the outcome of an event or series of events. Additionally, poker qualifies as a “table game” which is subject to extensive regulation. 

The PA Dept. of revenue website clarifies that poker nights outside of authorized casinos are illegal. A person is guilty of a misdemeanor if he allows people to assemble for the purpose of unlawful gambling at a place under the person’s control or being the owner of a premises that knowingly permits the same. 

As there the “card club” is collecting an entry fee and providing funds or prizes, there is a question regarding the legality of the group. As noted previously, there is a uniformity concern for the Borough. State law requires that the Borough charge uniform fees. Changing the fees for one group and not another would cause potential issues for the Borough, as such the fees charged must remain uniform."

When we read that full statement to council member Von Sas, he was shocked.

"There is the letter of the law, but what the seniors are doing is not even worth looking into," said Von Sas.

When FOX43 Finds Out asked Woods if that was an allegation of illegal gambling among the seniors, he said "The gambling was not something the Borough brought up or has alleged." Even though he did mention the question of the legality of the group in an earlier email to FOX43. 

Von Sas said, "It's just a no-brainer that they should be allowed."

For now, the council member paid the $100 himself so the seniors can play this month, as for what happens after that... it's unclear. 

There have been offers for the seniors to play during other times or locations, but organizers say none of those options would work. 

FOX43 Finds Out did reach out to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue about the possible gambling issue and we were told police or the district attorney's office would typically be responsible for that kind of investigation.

If you have a story you want Jackie De Tore to look into, FOX43 wants to find out. Send her a message on Facebook or send an email to FOX43FindsOut@FOX43.com. 

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