County Fraternal Lodges Seek Slots

SNOW HILL – Resistance to possible slot machines at Ocean Downs Racetrack may keep the popular one-armed bandits from descending on Worcester County en masse, but local fraternal organizations have just begun lobbying to bring them into their lodges in a small way.

Commissioners Bobby Cowger, Jim Purnell and Virgil Shockley reported to their fellow commissioners Tuesday that representatives of local fraternal organizations had contacted them seeking support for the proposal.

Cowger said that the organizations, like the Elks Lodge or the American Legion, feel that the rest of the county is being treated inequitably, with slot machines proposed only for the northern part of Worcester County, if at all. They do not feel it’s fair the rest of the county does not have the chance to bring in the gambling devices.

Other shore jurisdictions permit fraternal organizations to house slot machines, which are used to raise funds for their charitable work.

“Every county on the Eastern Shore has them except Worcester County,” Cowger said.

The bill would be written to exclude Ocean City locations, Cowger said.

Ocean City elected officials as well as tourism organizations oppose slots coming to Ocean Downs because they could take away from resort tourism.

“It would leave Ocean City out of it,” said Cowger.   

Commissioner Linda Busick felt the commissioners should be cautious and wait to see how the state handles racetrack slots first.

“We’ll have to see what happens with the slots, if it goes to referendum, or just what the situation is,” Busick said.

In 1987, the General Assembly passed a law permitting fraternal organizations to own and operate a limited number of slot machines (five per organization). Half the proceeds must go to charity, the other half to the organization.

In 2006, 49 such Eastern Shore organizations operated roughly 250 slot machines, donating about $3.5 million to charity.

Shockley reported to the commissioners that he told his caller to prepare a letter to the commissioners asking for support. According to Cowger, that letter was waiting for him after Tuesday’s meeting.

“They wanted our blessing on it,” said Shockley.

“They have to have our blessing on it,” Cowger said.

The General Assembly would never pursue or pass such a bill without the support of the local elected officials. The bill could be submitted as early as mid-December, according to Shockley.