The way the Elks and the Moose see it, Maryland would be a lot better off if they could set up slot machines throughout the state.
Members of fraternal and veterans organizations flocked to Annapolis yesterday to urge state legislators to legalize slot machine gambling in their halls on the Western Shore. Slots are already legal at fraternal lodges on the Eastern Shore.
Wearing the cloth hats of their clubs, about 40 men packed the meeting room of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee at a hearing on gambling bills that failed in the 1992 General Assembly session.
Last winter, the legislature gave the thumbs down to bills that would have allowed fraternal groups to operate slot machines in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Prince George's counties.
On the Eastern Shore, slot machines have transformed fraternal lodges into mini-palaces and turned club leaders into major philanthropists.
Supporters say the slots enable lodges to raise a significant amount of money for charities, fire companies and non-profit groups, as well as for themselves.
After all, as one Elks member said yesterday, a lodge can only have so many bull roasts and crab feasts to raise funds.
Critics, however, fear that slot machines will fall into the wrong hands and that the big money will attract organized crime. State police have had problems keeping track of slot machines on the Eastern Shore, they say.
Leroy Maddox, legislative chairman of the Maryland Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the group's Eastern Shore posts have not had those problems.
"We have no irregularities. The Mafia is not going to come in. Can you imagine the Mafia coming in if you have to give 50 percent [of the gambling proceeds] to charity?" Mr. Maddox said.
Even if lawmakers change their minds about slots on the Western Shore, the clubs face another formidable opponent.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday repeated his pledge to veto any bill that extends slot machine gambling beyond the Eastern Shore.
The clubs "haven't given the amount of money to charity" that he believes they should have donated, Mr. Schaefer said.
"I would oppose or veto any additional legislation for slot machines."
But the governor has decided to lend his support to another gambling proposal that failed last winter.
Mr. Schaefer said he favors a bill that would allow gambling on international cruise ships while they are traveling on the Chesapeake Bay.
Mr. Schaefer continues to oppose another plan, however, that would legalize gambling on riverboats plying Maryland waters.
Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat who has sponsored previous riverboat and cruise-ship gambling bills, is preparing similar legislation for the 1993 session.
Maryland State Police oppose the riverboat bill and have not taken a stand on the cruise ship plan yet, said Lt. David W. Czorapinski, legislative liaison for the police.