Charity slot machines proposed for Balto. Co.

February 08, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

The commander of the Rosedale Veterans of Foreign Wars says his proposal to allow non-profit groups to offer slot machine gambling in Baltimore County promises the "greatest thing" imaginable for local charities.

But law enforcement sources have their doubts, and the issue is not likely to come before the General Assembly until 1992.

"We do a lot of things," VFW post commander Thomas C. Rye said of his plans for profits from the slot machines.

For example, he said, the post helps patients in veterans' hospitals, gives away American flags and patriotic literature, and even helps an occasional out-of-state veteran whose car breaks down on U.S. 40 nearby. These expenses aren't covered under the group's non-profit federal tax status, but still cost money, he said.

In addition, he said, the money that gambling brings in would provide thousands of new dollars for area charities. "Just one post up in Cecil County raised $141,000 for charity in one year," Rye said.

Slots are permitted for non-profit organizations in eight Easter Shore counties, including Cecil, under a law passed in 1987. Harford County is seeking permission for slots this year, as is Worcester County, which asked to be excluded in 1987 to protect Ocean City from gambling interests.

Eastern Shore groups have used slot machine profits to buy new ambulances for their communities and lights for Little League playing field. The controls in the law would prevent any abuses, Rye said.

He added that the veterans would have compassion for their customers.

"If we got a call that somebody's husband was up here and lost $300 and that was the food money, we'd give it back and tell her he won't be welcome to gamble here anymore," Rye said.

Rye said he asked Dels. James F. Ports Jr., and Alfred W. Redmer Jr., both freshman Republicans from Perry Hall-White Marsh, to sponsor a bill that would allow up to five of the slot machines in Baltimore County locations operated by non-profit organizations.

Fifty percent of the gross profits from the machines would be required to go to charity under the terms of the bill.

Ports said he and Redmer have agreed to withdraw their bill to allow County Executive Roger B. Hayden to study the issue and take a position before the 1992 General Assembly section. Permits and Licenses director Ted Zaleski is to lead the study, aided by the county law office, and a member of the county Volunteer Firefighters Association.

Merreen E. Kelly, the county administrative officer, said county police may be brought in to the discussions later.

Sources in the law-enforcement community in the Baltimore area say they doubt that the law's safeguards work as well as they should.

The weak link, they say, is the reporting of profits. They are leery of the opportunity for skimming -- removing a portion of the gross before reporting the take. They say it would open a new area of possible gambling abuses in a county already plagued by widespread, illegal video poker machine gambling in bars, taverns and liquor stores.

David Mister, attorney for the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association, said the new form of gambling would likely draw business away from retail liquor outlets, hurting business.

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