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Judge shortens alcohol suspension for Waynesboro, Pa. social club

Eagles Club Inc. officials say suspension could result in closing its doors permanently

July 23, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A judge ruled Tuesday that a Waynesboro, Pa., social club cannot serve alcohol for 100 days starting Sept. 1.

The Eagles Club Inc. at 16-22 E. Main St. has challenged penalties associated with it violating small games of chance laws. In court, club officials did not dispute breaking those laws, but said a liquor license suspension could result in them closing their doors permanently.

“We’re struggling to keep our heads above water,” club Manager Todd Clopper said in court Tuesday.

The club is operating at a loss that totals $108,000 so far this year, he said.

The Eagles Club asked Franklin County (Pa.) Court of Common Pleas President Judge Douglas Herman to review a 150-day liquor license suspension handed down by an administrative law judge and upheld by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Clopper told the judge the club plans to try serving food only for the first month of the suspension to see if it can be profitable.

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“I don’t believe any of us think it’s going to do it for us,” he said.

The club, which employs 25 people, needs $12,000 to $15,000 a month to stay open, Clopper said. Other forms of revenue include rental properties and dues, he said.

Herman modified the suspension from 150 days to 100 days, after hearing arguments from the club’s lawyer and John H. Pietrzak, an attorney for the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.

On Dec. 29, 2011, state police cited the club for misusing funds from small games of chance, awarding more than $5,000 in payouts a week, possessing gambling or bookkeeping devices, and failing to keep complete and truthful records for two years.

Pietrzak said the club committed four violations of gaming laws while awaiting a judge’s decision regarding earlier violations. He said the club’s history of violations dates back decades and included three citations in four years.

The club’s attorney, Clint Barkdoll, told the judge the club today has new board members and a new manager. He mentioned an inspector’s comment during testimony that clubs were constantly in violation of gaming laws before they were amended in 2012.

“These cases are low-hanging fruit for the state, I suspect,” he said.

The Eagles Club, which has more than 3,000 members, touted its record of charitable giving, including $77,000 donated to the Waynesboro Area Business, Education and Community Foundation.

Herman remarked that he is not sure the Eagles Club should get kudos for that move in court because the amended law requires specific portions of gaming revenue be donated.

In reducing the suspension, Herman said he does not believe the administrative law judge intended the economic hardship to lead to the Eagles Club losing its ability to operate altogether. He noted the club already paid $4,000 in fines associated with the citation.

The club has an opportunity to appeal Herman’s decision to a higher court. Barkdoll said he needed to confer with his clients for them to decide whether to appeal.

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