SNOW HILL – After little discussion, county elected officials voted to support slot machines in service organizations Tuesday, clearing the way for state legislation enshrining the change.
The County Commissioners have said several times in the last two weeks that they would not vote until the legislation was written so they would know exactly what they were voting for.
“This morning we received a bill for your review,” County Administrator Gerry Mason told the commissioners Tuesday.
County Attorney Sonny Bloxom said the bill’s intent is simple.
“The only thing this bill does is add Worcester County to the eight existing counties,” said Bloxom, who served three terms as a county commissioner and spent several years as president of that body before stepping down in 2006 to run for the General Assembly.
“I’m okay with it,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley of the bill.
Commissioner Louise Gulyas also supported the bill.
“I adamantly oppose gambling in Worcester County,” Gulyas said. But, she went on, “Last night at the [Ocean City] council meeting the vote was 6-1 in favor of slot machines for fraternal, religious organizations, and veterans organizations. Therefore, because this is what my town wants, I will vote in favor of this today.”
In an aside during her statement, Gulyas said, “Sometimes you should be careful what you ask for.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to support the legislation.
Some county fraternal organizations have suggested setting up an oversight board, like the bingo board, to monitor and oversee slot machines at non-profits in Worcester County, Commissioner Bobby Cowger, who first brought the issue to the commissioners last fall, said.
“The sheriff has the oversight,” said Bloxom.
Sheriffs’ offices in the other eight shore counties have been largely overseeing the service organization slot machines for years.
The Worcester County Sheriff’s office spoke with other jurisdictions in advance of today’s decision, said Chief Deputy Dave Dods of the Worcester County Sheriff’s office, and those agencies do the majority of the oversight, particularly inspecting the meters of the machines annually.
Commissioner Linda Busick wondered who makes certain that only the right people, that is, organization members, use the slot machines.
While the various organizations have different rules, most have people show membership cards and guests sign in, Dods said.
The parent organizations of the lodges also do surprise inspections to make sure the rules are being followed.
“None of them want to take a chance of losing their charters. National boards will pull charters in a heartbeat,” said Dods.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office once did a surprise inspection and audit of all the Eastern Shore lodges with slot machines and found one minor administrative error, according to Dods.
“If you do something wrong, the IRS gets involved,” said Sarge Garlitz, commander of the Ocean City American Legion post.
The legislation will now go before the Maryland General Assembly.
“I was extremely pleased that all the commissioners fell in line and agreed and voted in favor,” said Cowger after the meeting. “I was glad to see Louise took her personal feelings out and followed what the people in her district wanted.”
Commissioner Bud Church said last week he was uncertain which way he would go.
“I did not know how I was going to vote ‘til I went in and sat down there and it came up,” said Church. “That was a very, very difficult vote for me. I am not at all in favor of slots.”
The fraternal organizations in Worcester County have wanted limited slot machines for years.
“We’re tickled to death,” Jim Flaig, treasurer of the Ocean City Elks Lodge, said this week. “It is a great thing. It is absolutely a great thing. … This is going to be a great help for us.”
The Ocean City Elks lodge is the largest on the Eastern Shore, but gives away the least amount of money.
“We get thousands and thousands of requests a year,” Flaig said, and the lodge cannot fully most of them.
Church said, “The one thing that probably swayed me is that I know there are going to be major cuts coming down from the state in reference to social services, and grants we can give.”
The limited access to the machines, the tight regulation, the donation of 50 percent of the proceeds, were all positives for Church.
“There were a number of things that just tipped the scales,” said Church. “But on the scale, if somebody had dropped a feather, I would have gone the other way.”
The state legislation should not encounter any problems in Annapolis, Cowger feels.
“They’re not changing anything in the bill except adding us,” he said.