Positive Hearing Raises Hopes For Service Club Slots Measure

BERLIN – While a bill that would add Worcester to the list of counties permitting limited slot machines in non-profit service clubs and fraternal organizations is no closer to becoming law this week, there was reason for optimism after a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

House Bill 56, introduced again this year by local Delegates Norm Conway and Jim Mathias, would allow limited slot machine gambling in service clubs and fraternal organizations in Worcester County, significantly expanding their fundraising capabilities. The bill, which has failed to gain approval in each of the last two General Assembly sessions, breezed through the House by a 133-22 vote back on March 5, sending it over once again to the Senate.

Equipped with posters outlining the vast contributions service clubs already make to the community and how those donations could be expanded if the bill allowing limited slot machines passed, Conway and Mathias, along with a strong contingent of county service club representatives, presented the bill’s merits to the Senate committee on Wednesday afternoon. Although no vote was taken immediately following the hearing, the presenters walked away with a newfound enthusiasm for the bill’s passage.

“It was a really good hearing, maybe the best since we’ve been presenting this over recent years,” said Mathias. “The committee was very attentive and responsive. I’m cautiously optimistic. I expressed our hope that the third time will be the charm.”

Sarge Garlitz, commander of the American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City, who has been on the front lines of the battle since the bill was unsuccessfully introduced three years ago, attended Wednesday’s hearing and came away with a similar feeling about its success.

“I thought it was a great hearing,” he said. “Everybody was very nice, overly nice, which kind of concerns me, but I’m very confident it went well.”

After yesterday’s hearing, Garlitz said he was confident this could be the year for the bill’s passage. For one thing, Senator Lowell Stoltzfus (R-38), who represents Worcester County, sits on the Budget and Taxation Committee and is reportedly supporting the legislation. In the past, Stoltzfus’ ambivalence toward the slots for service clubs bill has been called into question, but Garlitz and Mathias said this week the senator appears to be on board.

“He said yesterday he was opposed to slots in general, but that he could support this bill,” said Garlitz.

It remains uncertain if and when the committee will vote on the measure, which would then get it in front of the full Senate for a vote. In each of the last two years, the session has expired without the Senate voting on the bill. Garlitz held out hope the Senate would approve the bill if it would just get in front of the body.

“I think if it gets to a vote, it should pass with flying colors, but you never know,” he said. “I just hope nobody steps in and cuts down a log across the road for us.”

Garlitz said the current economic situation could benefit the bill this year.

“I think the need has finally gotten their attention,” he said. “With the economy the way it is and all of the budget cuts, I think they realize how far the revenue generated by this could go. This is a huge bill for Worcester County.”

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