State legislators from Harford County plan, yet again, to propose a bill this year that would allow fraternal organizations to have slot machines in their clubs as a way to raise money. A lot of money.
The bill is already being touted with the usual fanfare, wrapped in the red, white and blue of veterans clubs just trying to raise a littlecoin so they can keep their clubs up to par and help local charitiesin need.
If this year's rendition of this old song is similar to the failed ones of the past three years, half the money taken in from the machines would have to be used for "the benefit of charity." While that'spretty vague wording, it has a wholesome ring.
But what Harford'sstate legislators won't tell you when they propose this bill is thatit's not a cure-all for charity fund raising but is being done strictly to appease the huge number of veterans in the county to keep their votes.
You also won't find in the fiscal impact statement on this bill the unwholesome tales of misery from the hundreds of people inMaryland who have become addicted to playing these gambling machinesand go broke on the way.
Slot machines and their modern cousins, video poker machines, are legal in a number of counties. But they canbe found in many out-of-the-way bars and veterans' club houses throughout the state.
State Police had no trouble finding illegal slot and video poker machines when they raided a dozen or so bars and vets' clubs in Harford a few years ago.
They seemed ubiquitous. And they were full of coins -- a windfall for the bars and vets' clubs. Vice investigators estimated one machine could take in well over $100,000 annually. They cost about $6,000.
Leaders of Harford veterans' groups have argued that the machines are harmless and provide distraction and fun no more harmful to the player than Pac Man or Nintendo.
But that is a lie.
Joseph I. Cassilly, the county state's attorney, himself a decorated vet, has argued so for years now. He's pointed to several examples of people who have come to him complaining about spouses and friends financially wrecked from playing the machines.
Today's fandangled "slot" machines will take dollar bills -- and 20s and 50s.
You can play for hours.
Slot machines, whether theyhave card games or fruit games on the screen, are a gambler's pleasure dome.
The payoff is not only more games and maybe some cash, but addiction for many.
"Not only are they addictive, they are incredibly addictive," warns Valerie Lorenzo, executive director for the National Center for Pathological Gambling in Baltimore, which runs treatment programs for compulsive gamblers.
Lorenzo says that a survey by the center of gamblers anonymous groups in Maryland found 50 percent of the addicts said their addiction was slot and video poker machines.
The reasons: They are enormously competitive. Man vs. Machine. And they are a form of gambling that affords the player the ability to block out everything of their "reality," unlike say card poker,which requires the player to interact with other people.
"They bring devastation and ruin to the people who get addicted to them," says Lorenzo of slot machines. "A person can lose an entire paycheck in just a few hours playing a slot machine. That happens a lot."
The people most likely to play slot machines, says Lorenzo, are those on low or fixed incomes.
The irony in that is this: They are the people least likely to have medical insurance which would pay for a gambling addiction treatment program.
Harford legislators would do their constituents well before they propose the bill this time around to sit in a few times on one of the 14 gambler's anonymous chapter meetings around the state.
Maybe then the veterans' red, white and bluearguments that slots are the salvation for their clubs and the charity work they so desperately want to do might pale for the legislators.
And they might then find the gumption to tell the vets that if they want to raise money for their clubs and charities, find a way that doesn't smack of hypocrisy and ruination.