Slots For Clubs Bill Passes In Fourth Year

BERLIN — After falling just short in each of the last three years, the Maryland General Assembly this year passed legislation allowing limited slot machine gambling in non-profit service clubs, fraternal organizations and veterans’ groups in Worcester County.

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 a painful death in the Senate on the last day of the session. This year, however, the fourth time was the charm as the legislation cruised through the different chambers and was reconciled before being approved near the end of the session on Monday.

Senator Jim Mathias (D-38), who championed the cause in the House of Delegates the last three years, was pleased the legislation was enacted this year after the considerable blood, sweat and tears in the close of the most recent sessions.

“This is very fortunate for the service clubs and organizations that will benefit from this,” he said. “More importantly, the organizations these clubs support will be the big beneficiaries of this. These clubs will now be able to generate thousands of dollars for the charities and organizations they support.”

Starting in 1987, state law allowed a limited number of slot machines in service clubs, veterans’ organizations and fraternal organizations across the Eastern Shore as a means to enhance their fundraising efforts. State law requires at least 50 percent of the proceeds from the machines be donated back to charities in the counties in which they are located.

Slots in service clubs represent a big boost for their fundraising efforts. Last year, for example, the 273 slot machines located in the eight other Eastern Shore counties rang up a total of nearly $55 million, over half of which went right back to the multitude of local charities the clubs support.

In Worcester, the shot in the arm the slots will provide could not come at a better time as most of the service clubs are struggling just to get by, much less make considerable donations to local charities.

“Passing this legislation for our fraternal organizations and the American Legion was a priority this year for me in the House,” said Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B), who co-sponsored the legislation. “Our non-profits desperately needed this and our communities will be the beneficiaries of their charity.”

The new law will allow up to five slot machines at individual service clubs and fraternal organizations throughout Worcester County including Ocean City. Some late changes to the legislation passed this week include oversight by the state Comptroller’s Office instead of county sheriff’s department, although the latter will still likely be involved in the process of monitoring the machines and collecting the revenue.

Another late amendment puts geographic limitations on where the slots can be located in Ocean City with language that appears to prevent their proliferation on the Boardwalk, for example.

In another not-so-subtle change, language in the bill was altered to state at least 50 percent of the gross proceeds must go to charity with the rest going to the clubs that operate and maintain the gaming machines.

Ocean City American Legion Post 166 Commander Sarge Garlitz, who has been on the front lines of the battle for the last four years, said the language change ensures a 50-50 split between the charities and the clubs after the payouts are deducted.

“We’re obviously very pleased with the bill’s passage after several tough years, and we’re ready to move on to the implementation stage,” he said. “This is really going to help us with our fundraising efforts. We’ve been very patient through this process and now we’re looking forward to moving on.”