House OKs Service Club Slots

BERLIN – A bill adding Worcester to the list of shore counties permitting slot machines in non-profit service clubs and fraternal organizations breezed through the House on second reading this week and could pass over to the Senate as early as this afternoon, putting the legislation far ahead of last year’s schedule.

House Bill 56, introduced by local Delegates Norman Conway and James Mathias, would allow limited slot machine gambling in service clubs and fraternal organizations in Worcester County, in the interest of expanding their fundraising capabilities. Slots are currently allowed on a limited basis for clubs in all other counties on the shore and the latest bill, which breezed through the House on second reading Wednesday and is expected to be forwarded to the Senate as soon as this afternoon, would add Worcester to the list.

Limited slot machine gambling was first authorized for eligible non-profit organizations in the eight other counties on the shore back in 1987. State law requires at least 50 percent of the proceeds from the machines are donated back to charities in the counties where they are located. Slots in the service clubs represent a big boost for their fundraising efforts. Last year, the 273 slot machines located in the eight other Eastern Shore counties rang up a total of nearly $55 million.

The effort to add Worcester non-profit organizations to the list has stalled in the General Assembly during the last two sessions despite support from both the Ocean City Mayor and Council and the Worcester County Commissioners. Last year, the bill came out of the House late in the session and made it through a Senate committee, but died before a vote by the full Senate as the session came to an end.

This year, Mathias and Conway pre-filed the bill, putting it ahead of the game in the complicated approval process. Last year, the bill did not clear the House until the end of March.

Mathias said yesterday he is confident the bill will succeed this year. “I’m very pleased with how it’s moving this year,” he said. “Last year, it got caught up in a flurry of other bills in the Senate late in the session and never got a vote. This year, the Senate is going to get a look at it much earlier.”

Mathias emphasized the importance of the bill for the area.

“This is a very important bill for our district,” he said. “These non-profits raise so much money for the community, the schools, the fire departments, the Boy Scouts, Pop Warner football and on and on, and this would allow them to substantially improve on that.”