Fraternal Slots Bill Dies In Senate

ANNAPOLIS – One of the many casualties in the 2008 Maryland General Assembly Session was a bill that would add Worcester County to the list of counties that permit slot machines in service clubs and fraternal organizations.

House Bill 1008, introduced by Delegates James Mathias and Norm Conway, both D-38B, would have allowed limited slot machine gambling in service clubs and fraternal organizations in Worcester County, such as the American Legion or the Elks Club, for example, in the interest of expanding their fundraising efforts. Slots are currently allowed in similar clubs on a limited basis in all of the other counties on the Eastern Shore and the bill introduced this year by the local Delegates would have added Worcester to the list.

Slot machine gambling in the clubs has been resisted for years in Worcester County, but the bill this year for the first time in 30 years had the backing of the Ocean City Mayor and Council and the Worcester County Commissioners. Slots as a means to raise funds for worthy projects and causes is big business for the service organizations with the 49 clubs raising over $3 million last year, according to one source.

The local courtesy bill that would have added Worcester County to the list was passed by the House and appeared to be heading toward a vote by the Senate, but the bill died on the floor as the session expired on Monday at midnight before a vote by the full Senate could be called. It appears a couple of political forces at work during those final hours signaled the death knell for the legislation.

On the one hand, the leadership in the Senate allegedly put a stall on all bills related to gaming until a separate bill defining slots and gaming devices could be acted upon. Senate Bill 959 was on a parallel course for approval as the session wound down and the Senate was resisting voting on any other gaming bills before that issue was resolved.

Another apparent glitch in the approval of the slots for fraternal organizations and service clubs bill is that it was filed only in the House without a cross-filed bill in the Senate, meaning the legislation had to cross over late in the game after the House had approved it. If it had been cross-filed in the Senate, presumably by Senator Lowell Stoltzfus (R-38), it would have likely been through the requisite committees before the 11th hour on Monday. It is uncertain why the bill was not cross-filed in the Senate. Stoltzfus could not be reached for comment.

As it became apparent the bill was running out of time on Monday, state and local officials began a late campaign to help see it through. Worcester County Commission President Virgil Shockley said this week the commissioners sent a letter to Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller late Monday urging him to nudge the bill forward. Meanwhile, Mathias and Conway vigorously worked the phones to encourage at least a vote on the Senate floor.

“We worked the phones all day Monday to get it out and moving, but it just ran out of time,” said Mathias. “It’s disappointing. This was a top priority of ours for this session and it died right at midnight on Monday without a vote.”

The end result was met with disappointment by many of the service clubs and organizations in the resort area that would have benefited from the bill. For example, Sarge Garlitz, commander of American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City, said yesterday it appeared the bill was on its way to passage.

“It got caught up in a bunch of political posturing at the end,” he said. “It looked like it was a done deal, but it died without a vote. It’s disappointing but we’ll stay the course and bring it back next year.”