By Dylan Waugh
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009
ANNAPOLIS - Lawmakers presented two nearly identical bills to a Senate committee Wednesday that would allow eligible nonprofit organizations throughout Maryland to own and operate up to five slot machines.
Under current law, qualified organizations in eight Eastern Shore counties can have up to five machines.
Expanding the provision statewide would help nonprofits, particularly veterans' organizations, raise funds, the bills' sponsors, Senators Norman Stone, Jr., D-Baltimore County, and Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
The bills echo the current law in requiring at least half of the slots proceeds go to charities.
Slots currently owned by nonprofits in the Eastern Shore counties produced $3.6 million for charities and $3.5 million for the operating organizations in the 2006 fiscal year, Klausmeier said.
"If expanded statewide, this would be a great boon to both the operating organizations and the charities that they choose," Klausmeier said.
Members and supporters of veterans' organizations packed the committee hearing room, frequently applauding the lawmakers' statements. Some spoke on behalf of the bills.
Slots proceeds would allow organizations to better serve their communities, particularly their mentoring and youth outreach programs, putting less of the burden on government services and programs, supporters said.
"Failure to pass this legislation will seriously impact and inversely decrease the donations to our myriad of worthy charitable organizations," said Elbert D. White, past department commander of American Legion Post 259 in Clinton.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, who sits on the committee, called the slots currently in place in his Eastern Shore district "very controlled" and "very beneficial."
The slot machines could only be played by members of the operating organizations, not the general public, Stone said.
Allowing more organizations to have slots would not infringe on the state's push for commercial slots parlors at five locations throughout the state, Klausmeier said.
"In my opinion, the people who would play these slots at a nonprofit organization are not necessarily those who would be patronizing the new slots facilities and vice versa," she said.
The bill does not mean all counties will be eligible for slots if they are not interested. Any county seeking an exclusion from the provision can get one, said Stone.
The committee hearing came two days after state officials announced disappointing returns on the much-anticipated, unrelated bids for commercial slots parlors. Slots parlors were approved by voters in November, but interest from developers has so far been less than the state expected.
Klausmeier was careful to distinguish her legislation from the larger, state slots effort.
"This legislation is not a slots bill," she said. "It's a veterans fund-raising bill."