American Legions, VFWs happy they'll get gaming machines

A lot of things came out of the second special legislative session of the year.

Prince George's Countycould possibly have a casino of its own, if approved by voters in the November election, table games will soon join slot machines in casinos across the state and, after more than a decade of trying, veterans organizations will be able to operate electronic gaming machines in their clubs.

American Legions and VFWs throughout Maryland, except Montgomery County, will get to have up to five machines as a way to earn revenue. Veteran organizations in Cecil County and the Eastern Shore already operate slots.

"I'm very excited," Charlie Wollenweber, with American Legion Post 17, said. "In Harford County, we've been after that for so many years."

Wollenweber, the judge advocate for the post in Edgewood, feels somewhat conflicted about the issue, however.

An amendment brought up by Sen. Barry Glassman, who represents the northern part of the county, failed on the Senate floor last Friday.

On Tuesday, several delegates brought up similar amendments for their counties and eventually the majority of the state's districts were part of the amendment.

Those who wanted to vote in favor of slots for veterans' organizations would also need to vote in favor of the rest of the gambling bill.

"They used the veterans to get what they wanted," Wollenweber said about the politicians. "That's the main consensus of, at least, the guys at my post."

Although he doesn't like how it happened, saying he felt the veterans were "pawns" in a political game, the news was still welcomed.

More revenue will most likely come in, Wollenweber continued, and, in turn, help with operating the facility and help the veterans who are part of Post 17.

Former Bel Air Post 39 commander Dick Gebhard also feels that gaming machines will be nothing but beneficial to the veterans' organizations.

"Revenue is down and we're looking for all kinds of ways to generate revenue," he said. "It's a big step, no question."

Gebhard, who is also the president of the board of directors for the post in Bel Air, hadn't read the legislative bill yet, but was looking forward to learning more.

"The Eastern Shore legions have had it [machines] for years," he said. "I'm wondering if we're going to be on par with them, if the machines are the same or the profits will be the same."

Richard Ferguson, Havre de Grace American Legion Post 47 commander, has sponsored similar bills in the past.

"It should've been approved for everyone from the get go," he said, referring to some counties having slots and not all organizations. "It's a great idea. It's good income. It helps to meet obligations."

Ferguson doesn't believe having the slots will affect other counties in terms of profit.

"People stay close to home and gamble rather than travel all over," he said. "I don't think it'll affect veterans organizations [elsewhere]."

Glassman, who wrote a lot of the language that went into the amendment, explained that what the organizations will have are "electronic gaming machines that mimic a slot machine."

Many people refer to them as electronic bingo or just slots because they look very similar.

Once a player inserts his or her money into the machine it will give the player an "instant lottery ticket," Glassman explained, that says if the person has won. That person will then cash in the ticket.

The VFW or American Legion will get a percentage of the proceeds, the state will get another small percentage, which will go into a veterans trust fund, and another percentage goes to the person playing.

Del. Rick Impallaria has advocated for gaming machines in Legions and VFWs for nearly 15 years, bringing up bills in almost every regular legislative session.

When the opportunity arose to add the slots amendment to Gov.Martin O'Malley's expanded gambling bill, Impallaria, much like Glassman, took it.

The delegate, who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties, said he reached out to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House SpeakerMichael E. Buschabout a month ago saying he would consider supporting an expansion of gamin if the amendment were included.

On the first day of this latest special session, he did the same.

"They [Miller and Busch] didn't ask us for it," Impallaria said. "It was, 'You want this? This is what it's going to take.'"

Fellow delegates Glen Glass and Susan McComas are also glad the veterans' organizations will benefit from the special session.

"As a veteran it's a very big issue for me.," Glass wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "I support having slots in these facilities because it will help raise revenue. As you know, many of the members of these military organizations are [World War] II, Korean and Vietnam war era. Hopefully, the addition of slots will attract younger war veterans to these facilities, increase their membership and keep them strong for years to come."

McComas wrote in an e-mail, "This will energize these veterans' organizations and help with their charitable work. It was sad that it took the governor's gambling frenzy to permit the veterans to get machines that have always been available to other jurisdictions."

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