SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The VFW has been providing support to combat veterans and their families for more than a century.
“Many times they do not like to go professional assistance," said Gen Ratigliano, the VFW’s New York state commander. "Coming into a facility like this and speaking to other veterans, they are talking to an individual who understands and they have a lot they can get off their chest.”
Since 1975, the VFW and other veterans organizations have been allowed to raise the bulk of their funds through charitable gaming, which covers expenses ranging from operating costs to college scholarships and donations throughout the community.
"It just lets us do a whole gamut of things we would not be able to do because we are not a business where we have regular revenue,” Ratigliano said.
Of the $200 million collected through charitable gaming each year, some is raised through raffles and Quick Draw, but about 90 percent comes from so called "bell jar" machines that dispense paper pull-tabs. Winning tickets can be worth several hundred dollars.
"In 1995, the legislature allowed for this electronic dispenser but now here we are more than 20 years later and we are looking to try to have it play a little faster, be a little more attractive for younger members," said Kirby Hannan, the VFW’s legislative advocate.
Hoping to appeal to younger vets, the groups are supporting a change in state law that would allow them to update the bell jar games with machines that feature a modern video interface.
Already passing through the legislature, the bill is awaiting Gov. Cuomo's signature.
"This is something that has been around for a long time,” Hannan said. “There is no intrinsic change in the device, I think the governor will see that and sign it."
The bill has been opposed by the operators of some Native American casinos, but the VFW's leaders believe it will help them carry on their mission of serving vets.
“It’s really a great feeling when you can sit down with that individual and make them feel comfortable," Ratigliano said.