OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Council put its support behind the proposal to allow slot machines in certain service organizations this week in a 6-1 vote, backing the fraternal clubs’ position but suggesting an increase in charitable giving.
The council took an official stance on the issue this week, after recent discussions before the County Commissioners regarding the legislation that could allow for certain service organizations in Worcester County to house slot machines.
Worcester County is currently the only county on the Eastern Shore that does not allow for five slot machines to be placed in the halls of eligible, non-profit organizations. Eligible organizations must meet a variety of criteria and must be a fraternal, religious or war veteran organization. Only members or their guests may use the machines, which are not available to the general public.
The Mayor and Council have historically remained steadfast in their opposition to slot machines in Worcester County, but wavered in their opposition this week after reviewing the charitable benefits that could derive from the addition of slots.
“I know of three organizations here in town that do a lot for the town. They want five slot machines, I’m not against that,” said Councilman Lloyd Martin, who made the motion to support slot machines within service organizations.
Councilwoman Nancy Howard was the lone official to cast a vote against Martin’s motion.
“I’m afraid I can’t support slot machines for any reason. I think there are many, many other ways that organizations have raised thousands and thousands of dollars without slot machines,” said Howard. “I can’t be in a position of not allowing slot machines in Worcester County and then turn around and say – except for these people.”
Mayor Rick Meehan addressed the list of the 45 non-profit organizations in Ocean City that are currently on the list for the beer truck rotation from the town during Springfest and Sunfest, asking City Solicitor Guy Ayres which organizations would be able to house slots.
“Without seeing their charters, I can’t give you an exact number,” Ayres said. “The vast majority would not be eligible. If they’re legitimate fraternal organizations, they would be eligible, your war veteran organizations would be eligible.”
Meehan, who was present at the presentation to the County Commissioners last month, suggested that more money be allocated for charity.
“I listened intently to what the organizations had to say. The legislation requires that 50 percent goes to charity. Wouldn’t it be more palatable if that number was 75 percent rather than 50 percent?” Meehan questioned.
Under the existing law, a minimum of 50 percent of the proceeds must be given to charity.
Hancock agreed that 75 percent would be a more palatable number and one that could spur other counties to follow in suite.
“It’s not like Worcester County would be leading the train, a lot of jurisdictions have had experience with it [slots in service organizations] and I haven’t read of any major problems with it, but if we could lead the train with 75 percent, that would be much better for recipients,” Hancock said.
The Ocean City Elks Lodge’s Jim Flaig spoke on behalf of his fraternal organization, citing the greater good that would come from the addition of slots in their lodge.
“Worcester County, 20 years ago, applied to be out of this bill. The Ocean City Elks is the largest Elks on the Eastern Shore. The budget for the largest Elks Club on the Eastern Shore is $27,500. What a disgrace it is for the largest, the biggest [Elks] on the Eastern Shore. Just think how much we could do better,” Flaig said, noting that some of the smallest Eastern Shore Elks Clubs, Crisfield Elks, have charitable budgets of $120,000. “This thing has been in operation on the Eastern Shore for 20 years, there’s never been a problem, there’s never been a scandal.”
In regards to the suggestion to increase the minimum of charitable donations to 75 percent, Flaig disagreed, noting that it wouldn’t be feasible for the organizations. Flaig noted that the Ocean Elks would invariably give more than 50 percent, adding that the cost for slot machines and the cost of maintenance add to the bill.
“The 50 percent is 60 to 65 percent right there. You get to the point where you’ve got to make it worthwhile for an organization, to give them the ability to donate to the community,” he said.
If the bill is approved, Meehan said he hopes the clubs will continue their more traditional fundraising events in the community.
“I hope that other methods of volunteerism don’t go away because of the easy money with slots,” said Mayor Meehan.