Slots Not An Issue This Year

ANNAPOLIS – With much of the focus of the General Assembly
this year focused on major issues such as the smoking ban, improved health
care, stronger sex offender laws and others, the effort to approve slots in
Maryland barely got out of the box this year after dominating the legislature
for the last four years, but local representatives said this week the “s” word
is still smoldering under the surface.

No less than a dozen bills were introduced in the General
Assembly this year advocating slot machines in Maryland, but not one ever made
it out of their respective committees. The two most prominent slots bills this
year were introduced by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and Delegate
Galen Clagett, which were similar and called for a limited number of slot
machines at racetracks across the state including Ocean Downs with the revenue
dedicated to an Education Trust Fund for school construction projects.

Other notable bills related to slots included Senate Bill
216, which would have put the issue to the residents of the state in the form
of a statewide straw ballot question during the next election; and a handful of
other bills that would have allowed slot machines at various service clubs such
as American Legions and VFW halls. Yet another bill – the so-called Vessel
Gaming Act – would have allowed slot machines on certain docked or at sea
vessels.

None of the proposed slots bills saw the light of day this
year after the issue was fiercely debated during the last several sessions, but
that doesn’t mean there is no longer an interest in the gaming machines in
Annapolis. With a predicted $1.5 billion structural deficit predicted in the
next two years, state lawmakers are looking for new revenue sources.

“There hasn’t been very much discussion about slots this
year, and with five days left in the session, it doesn’t appear any of these
bills will move,” said Delegate Jim Mathias. “Slots will probably be part of a
revenue package we consider when we start tackling the projected deficit next
year.”

Senator Lowell Stoltzfus agreed slots were barely
discussed in the current session. “I think it’s been a muted issue this year,
but it certainly isn’t going to go away,” he said.

State lawmakers are expected to convene in a rare special
session in September when the Board of Revenue comes out with its latest
figures for the predicted structural deficit and slots will likely be a hot
button issue.

“The predicted structural deficit is the 800-pound gorilla
we’re now facing and slots will be a big part of that discussion,” said
Stoltzfus.

 

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