Worcester County fraternal organizations should be allowed to have slot machines in their buildings under the conditions they devote a certain amount of the proceeds to the community. However, the path we are taking to get to that outcome has become quite bizarre and seems to have further fractured relations between county and Ocean City officials.
Currently, Worcester is the only jurisdiction on Maryland’s Eastern Shore prohibiting slots in the fraternal clubs. At a recent public hearing, representatives from a variety of the area’s fraternal clubs presented a united front of support for slots to the County Commissioners. Various club representatives touted the funds they currently give to the community as assets to the groups receiving the contributions and told the commissioners the contributions will soar if slots are brought in. “We do an awful lot for the county, but there’s an awful lot we don’t do for the county,” said Ocean City Elks Lodge’s Jim Flaig.
We see no harm in allowing fraternal organizations to have limited slots. You have to be a member to be allowed in these clubs, and the contributions the clubs make to the community is a huge benefit that far outweighs any negative from having a restricted number of slot machines in the lodges. It’s key the legislation that’s drafted and approved place limits on how many terminals can be installed at each of the clubs and limits the proliferation.
The Ocean City Mayor and Council and at least two County Commissioners oppose any kind of legislation that allows slots at these non-profit clubs. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, who was puzzled by the manner in which the county handled this situation, confirmed that much this week. During an afternoon meeting on Tuesday, Meehan addressed a secretive letter of support from the county for slots at the fraternal clubs to the lower shore’s delegation in Annapolis.
In a letter to Senator Lowell Stoltzfus and Delegates Norm Conway and Jim Mathias, dated Jan. 18, County Commission President James Purnell wrote, “At this time, a majority of Commissioners are conceptually in favor of state legislation to add Worcester County to Section 12-304(b) of the Criminal Law Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland. Would you be kind enough to have such legislation drafted for final Commissioners review at your earliest convenience. The Commissioners will take this matter up at their next session scheduled for Feb. 5.”
This letter seems to be an obvious breach of proper government process and yet another example of private decision-making. Typically, the county holds a public hearing on an issue and then takes a public vote on the matter. This public vote did not happen before this letter of support was mailed. It’s understandable time was of the essence because legislators need to know how the home county feels before introducing legislation. However, the letter should not have been mailed before the official vote was held.
Is this making a mountain out of a molehill? Perhaps. All this letter really does is state a majority opinion, allowing the drafting of the bill to move ahead in a timely fashion and for the county to see the text drafted “for final Commissioners review”. It’s not a big deal, but the county should have still held a public vote beforehand, which will likely come next week.
Regardless of whether the process was handled correctly, we think the legislature should allow slots to come to Worcester’s fraternal clubs. The positives, namely the amount of money these organizations raise for charity each year, are significant, and the negatives are not as consequential.