Mitchell proposes board to regulate all gambling STATE HOUSE REPORT

February 23, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

As House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. told his colleagues yesterday that Maryland must regulate gambling, he was immediately hit with opposition from fraternal groups that operate slot machines on his native Eastern Shore.

At the same time, Mr. Mitchell won support from Gov. William Donald Schaefer for the speaker's measure to create a five-member board to regulate all forms of gambling not under state auspices, from slots and casino nights to bingo and tip jars.

Public opposition to keno, the electronic lottery game, and the fear of "undesirable" elements' becoming involved in gambling, led him to introduce the bill, Mr. Mitchell told the House Judiciary Committee.

"I decided it was time to license all gambling," said the Kent Democrat.

A hodgepodge of local laws currently regulate activities, said the House speaker, citing more than a dozen statutes that license and regulate charitable gambling operations.

The proposed Gambling Control Board would oversee all forms of charitable gambling, through licensing and unspecified application fees. It would have the right to fingerprint and conduct background checks on licensees, and ensure that proceeds are distributed for charitable purposes. The board also would coordinate with local regulatory panels.

Mr. Mitchell said that while "there's a lot of good" done through gambling proceeds from charitable groups, he is concerned about protecting fraternal groups from bad publicity and growing public opposition to gambling.

"Maryland is looked upon as a cheaters' paradise," State Police Maj. John Cook told the committee, noting police have evidence of professional gamblers coming to Maryland.

Major Cook said he is unaware of any state with as much gambling that lacks government oversight. For example, he said Maryland lacks laws against cheating at cards and of being cheated by a dealer.

David S. Iannucci, the governor's legislative lobbyist, said Mr. Schaefer backs the bill.

He said the House speaker's measure would address the issue of regulating slots (which are only legal on the Eastern Shore), a proposal pushed by the governor that was killed earlier this month by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Still, fraternal organizations from the Eastern Shore said no one has hard evidence of any widespread wrongdoing. They said the measure would create more bureaucracy and paperwork for them, as well as fees.

"We don't need this other layer of government," said Steve Allen, governor of the Bay Country Moose Lodge 831 in Queenstown.

While Mr. Mitchell said he hopes the bill will pass the House, its Senate chances are uncertain.

Sen. Walter Baker, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, was decidedly cool to the measure.

"I've never really heard of any problem with gambling in Maryland," he said. "[The bill's sponsors] have got to make a case."

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