Allow slot-machine gambling, two counties ask


ANNAPOLIS -- Bad times have put some legislators in a gambling mood.

Lawmakers from three counties -- Worcester, Harford and Baltimore County -- said yesterday that they wanted to let fraternal and other non-profit service organizations in their counties use slot machines to raise money for themselves and for charitable purposes.

Before the day was out, however, the sponsors of the Baltimore County proposal -- freshmen Republican Delegates Alfred W. Redmer Jr. and James F. Ports -- withdrew their bill. They explained that new County Executive Roger B. Hayden wanted to study the broader issue of gambling by non-profit organizations before submitting a more comprehensive bill to the 1992 General Assembly.

Another freshman, Delegate K. Bennett Bozman, a Worcester County Democrat, pressed on with a slot machine bill for his county despite strong opposition from Ocean City officials.

At a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, representatives of virtually every American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other fraternal or service organization in Worcester County asked for permission to install up to five slot machines each. They said they needed the one-armed bandits to raise money for Little Leagues, Boy Scouts or other community programs.

Four years ago, Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed a bill that legalized slot machines for non-profit organizations in eight Eastern Shore counties, but he specifically excluded Worcester County in an attempt to preserve the wholesome "family image" of Ocean City. The law requires that at least half the proceeds be donated to charity.

At the time, Mr. Schaefer said he would not support any expansion of slot machines in the state beyond those eight counties, and he pledged to veto any bill that called for such expansion. His aides said yesterday that they had no reason to think the governor had changed his mind but that they had not briefed him on the pending Worcester or Harford County bills.

Ocean City Mayor Roland E. Powell and members of the City Council said they did not want slot machines in their city, fearing that a foothold in service clubs might lead to an expansion of gambling that could transform the beach resort into another Atlantic City.

"It is something that grows and gets out of hand," the mayor warned the committee.

Meanwhile, Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Harford, said he, too, planned to introduce a slot machine bill for his county. Mr. Amoss said the slot machines had raised money for charities in neighboring Cecil County and would do likewise in Harford.

He said new County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann supported the legislation but wanted to charge clubs a fee of $150 per machine rather than the $50 charged in other counties to cover the cost of auditing or other related expenses.

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