Slots In Clubs Looks Promising, Legislators Say

OCEAN CITY — Companion bills that would allow limited slot machine gambling in non-profit service clubs, fraternal organizations and veteran’s groups in Worcester had preliminary hearings in their respective House and Senate committees last week, and local lawmakers appear confident the legislation will pass.

For each of the last three years, a bill that would have added Worcester to the list of eight Eastern Shore counties that allow a limited number of slot machines in service clubs and organizations in an effort to enhance their fundraising capabilities has passed through the House before dying on the last day in the Senate. This year, however, bills were cross-filed in the House and Senate, likely improving its chances of passage this year.

In separate hearings last week, the two bills had hearings in their respective committees. Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) introduced Senate Bill 249, which had a hearing last week in front of the Budget and Taxation Committee, while Delegates Mike McDermott (R-38B) and Norm Conway (D-38B) introduced House Bill 39, which had a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee last week.

“We had a very good initial hearing last week in the Senate with the leadership of the Elks and American Legion in Ocean City testifying on behalf of the bill,” he said. “I came out of that feeling very good about its prospects for passing this year.”

In each of the last three years, the slots-for-clubs bill has died in the Senate on or near the last day of the session after passing through the House. This year, Mathias said he is leaning on Senate President Mike Miller to help with its passage.

“I had a meeting with the Senate President and I’m urging him to help shepherd this bill through this year,” he said. “The legislation is complex and I don’t want to take anything for granted, but I’m looking forward with optimism this time around.”

Over in the House, where the bill has been passed in each of the last three years, McDermott said he remains confident this could be the year.

“I’m confident the committee will send it out and it will get out of the House,” he said. "Whether it gets through the Senate or not, I don’t know.”

McDermott said the legislation has the support of the County Commissioners, municipal leaders in the towns where would be located and the county’s delegation in Annapolis, which should make it a no-brainer in terms of getting it passed.

“It should be a local courtesy issue,” he said. “There is clearly consensus on this from a local standpoint. As a general rule, they tend to be supported.”