OCEAN CITY – Local fraternal organizations are going “all in” to get slots machines in their clubs, and they now have the City Council cheering them on and a state legislator pledging to go to bat for them again in Annapolis.
In efforts to overturn a 22-year-old law that prohibits slot machines in Worcester County fraternal lodges, Jim Flaig of the Ocean City Elks Lodge #2645 came before the council pleading for their blessing as they take another go at getting a bill passed in Annapolis.
“We made it all the way last year to the Senate floor on the final day but the bill died, and we are asking for your support so we can get it passed through this year,” said Flaig.
The council unanimously, with Councilman Joe Hall absent, granted support for Flaig, and Mayor Rick Meehan will pen a letter of support for the groups.
The 1986 law that the groups are trying to overturn or amend allows up to five slot machines to operate in any fraternal lodge or “service group” on the Eastern Shore, except for Worcester County. If passed, Flaig says the money that would be pumped back into the local economy would be quite useful.
“We are talking anywhere from $200,000 to $250,000 here that could be directly used to fund Little Leagues and parks and other charities that might not get funded otherwise,” he said. “You would get 50 percent of what these machines bring in.”
By law, the groups would have to split half of their earnings with the county, and the upkeep and liability insurance would have to be paid for by their cut of the pie, leaving a true 50-percent cut for the county to use, most likely on recreational programs and parks, an area that Flaig said the “OC budget and the county have shortfalled with recent cuts.”
Last year’s bill was supported and co-sponsored by delegates Jim Mathias and Norm Conway and “got caught up in some other heavy gambling legislation and unfortunately fell through,” according to Mathias.
“I’ve spoken with [Conway] and we are planning to re-file this bill and hopefully cross-file it with our Senator [Lowell Stolzfus], and hopefully we can respectfully stay the course on this matter and get it passed through this year for these clubs. I’m very pleased to hear that the Mayor and City Council gave their support to this again,” he said.
What could have thwarted last year’s efforts was the fact that the bill was not cross-filed as Mathias and Conway helped shepherd it through the House, but it died without a vote on the Senate floor. The Senate lumped this bill in with a number of others that were held-up on any matters pertaining to gambling until a larger one that defined slots and gaming devices could be acted upon.
Mathias was quick to point out that though he is confident the bill should have an easier time this year, he said nothing is certain.
“I’m not sure where these machines will be allowed in clubs. Maybe in Pocomoke, maybe in Berlin, or maybe in Ocean City, but if you think that it might all change this time around because of the last election, you might have something to hang your hat on, but historically speaking, Ocean City was never interested,” he said.
Mathias said the reason he is fighting to help these clubs is the “invaluable service” that they provide for the community.
“Some of these clubs are hanging on for dear life financially. If you look at what these clubs do in the community, the programs they provide are ones that are used by our residents every single day,” he said. “I hope we can safely navigate through the political process and get this job done for them this time around.”