Slot-machine rules: bad bet to survive Senate panel STATE HOUSE REPORT

February 04, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

The odds that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee would agree to the Schaefer administration's proposal to regulate slot machines appeared pretty slim at yesterday's hearing.

Hardly had William A. Fogle Jr., the secretary of licensing and regulation, begun the administration's case than committee chairman Walter M. Baker interrupted.

"You know one of my favorite sayings is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it," commented the Democrat from Cecil County, one of the eight counties where slots are legal for fraternal and veterans' organizations.

"Why is this broke?"

The administration wants to take regulation of the slots away from county sheriffs and instead have them licensed by the state, which would have power to audit the proceeds to insure that half of the profits are going to charity as required by law. The state police would be the enforcement agency.

"I think the state police are just trying to find something wrong with the slots," Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., a Dorchester Democrat, said. "There isn't anything wrong.

"They just want to take it away from the local people and give it to a state authority. It bothers me that they don't trust us on the Eastern Shore. The sheriffs have done a good job with this."

The state attorney general's office has been conducting a grand jury probe of the Shore slots since last summer with no indictments.

At yesterday's hearing, state police Maj. John Cook said that the investigation was kicked off by a call from the Nevada gaming commission, that state's regulatory body, asking approval on the shipment of slot machines to Maryland.

"We found that there was no one place we could go to find out how many slot machines are in the state," Major Cook said, complaining that the different methods of record keeping in the eight counties make it impossible to keep track of machines in the state.

He said the Nevada commission called again inquiring about a request to ship 1,500 slots to Maryland, eventually denied in Nevada. There are only 52 Eastern Shore organizations that are allowed to have five slots each, making 260 the maximum number of legal machines in the state.

Major Cook further complained that there is currently no way to keep track of machines removed from the clubs.

"All we've heard is what may be, could be, might possibly be wrong with the slots," said Del. Samuel Q. Johnson III, a Wicomico Democrat, testifying against the bill. "I've never heard one instance of a law being actually broken."

Opponents of the bill, which included representatives of many of the clubs that currently operate the slots, said they would be willing to see the current law fine-tuned to take care of reporting problems.

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