Clubs want OK for video poker game They promise gambling proceeds to county, charities

November 22, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

A group of Carroll fraternal organizations is pushing the county commissioners to endorse legalization of video poker machines.

The organizations -- including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Moose and the Elks -- will meet with the commissioners at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Westminster Moose Lodge to discuss the issue and demonstrate a state-of-the-art video poker machine.

The groups want the commissioners to urge Carroll's General Assembly delegation to introduce legislation next year that would grant them an exception to the state's gaming laws.

"We want [the county] to acknowledge what goes on at all of these lodges and to allow it to become lawful," said Daniel Green, a Westminster attorney representing the groups.

The groups, he said, use the video poker machines to raise money not only for their own organizations but also for charity.

Their charters require them to donate 50 percent of any proceeds to charitable causes.

But the machines, which pay cash prizes up to $200, are illegal in Maryland because they are considered to be forms of gambling.

"These are very mainstream, conservative organizations," Mr. Green said.

"These are mostly veterans' organizations [that] hold Friday night dances, picnics, run barrooms and charitable activities. They're the type of groups politicians love to solicit."

While many organizations use the video poker machines, Mr. Green said they are fearful of criminal prosecution in light of a recent raid of two Sykesville clubs by Maryland state police.

"There has been a substantial decline in the amount of money [the two clubs] raise because they can't have the poker machines anymore," he said.

In seeking the commissioners' support, the group is pledging to donate a portion of the profits from the machines to the county.

"We're trying to give money to our county, particularly in lieu of the massive cuts in state spending," Mr. Green said.

"Our organizations contribute in the neighborhood of $500,000 a year to charities."

Other forms of gambling have been allowed in other parts of Maryland. On the Eastern Shore, for instance, slot machines are legal so long as 50 percent of the proceeds are donated to charity.

Carroll Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he was willing to listen to the groups' proposal but has trouble envisioning the commissioners putting their "official stamp of approval on gambling in the county."

"I'm going to go to this meeting with an open mind," Mr. Lippy said. "I can be convinced if the selling is good enough."

If the legislature approves the exception to allow video poker machines in Carroll, Mr. Green envisions the organizations paying 10 percent of proceeds in state amusement taxes, donating 10 percent -- or some other negotiated figure -- to the county, and splitting the rest of their profits from the machines with charity groups.

The video poker machines, Mr. Green said, also come with software accounting programs and other tools for auditing purposes.

The groups would own the machines instead of leasing them to prevent racketeering, he said.

Nonetheless, the proposal is likely to raise concerns.

Mr. Lippy said he envisions a battle between the service organizations and some of the county's more conservative churches.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, said he doesn't believe video poker machines should be used for fund-raising efforts, but he, too, is willing to listen to the group's proposal.

"My concern is that the video poker machine is nothing more than a glorified slot machine," he said.

"Yet I need to see what it is. I don't want to debate the issue until I see their [the organizations'] proposal."

Mr. Green maintains that the group is not advocating widespread gambling.

"The key distinction is that video gaming is not the same as slot machines," he said. "We're not trying to turn this into 'Las Vegas on the Patapsco.' "

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