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Senate OKs gambling fund-raisers


A reluctant Anne Arundel Senate delegation approved a bill yesterday that would allow charitable and nonprofit organizations to hold once-a-year casino gambling fund-raisers.

But in approving the bill, the senators killed a provision that would have allowed video gaming machines.

"We have concerns. We don't want to let [gambling] get out of hand," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat and chairman of the Senate delegation. "We had it before. We eliminated casino gambling about four or five years ago."

At the urging of Sen. John A. Cade, a Severna Park Republican, the delegation approved an amendment requiring the gambling events to be held at a location that is owned or leased for regular use by the organization.

That would prevent an organization from renting out a hall to other groups on a regular basis for fund-raisers and possibly taking a cut of the proceeds, Mr. Cade said.

A provision limiting requiring anyone who helps run such a fund-raiser would have to have been a member of the charitable group for at least two years to prevent outside interests -- such as members of organized crime -- from becoming involved in gambling in the county.

The bill allows gambling fund-raisers to be conducted by volunteer fire companies and fraternal, civic, war veteran, religious, amateur athletic or other charitable organizations.

Games it would permit include those involving cards, dice and roulette wheels. County law currently allows nonprofit groups to hold fund-raisers with bingo and wheels of fortune.

The bill has an October 1996 sunset provision. At that time, it must be considered again by the General Assembly. "That way we can keep an eye on it," Mr. Jimeno said.

Members of the county's House delegation favor allowing groups to hold gambling fund-raisers once a month and for the past three years have approved a version of the bill with that provision.

Allowing one fund-raiser a year is too restrictive, Del. Phillip D. Bissett, a Republican who is chairman of the county's House delegation, told the senators during a hearing Tuesday.

If the senators don't feel they could accept monthly fund-raisers, he said, "my recommendation is for the Senate to amend it to allow them to do it at least six times a year. We'd like to give them a little more flexibility."

Arthur L. Spencer, president of the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association, which had sought the legislation, was disappointed with the outcome. "It's not worth it," he said of the once-a-year restriction in the bill. "We could have done it once a year without the law."

The bill needs approval from the Judicial Proceedings Committee and the full Senate, and House approval of the amended version.

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