Corrupt P.G. casinos Charity gambling: Finally a crackdown, but will legislature let games continue?

August 23, 1996

NOW THAT Gov. Parris N. Glendening has sounded the death knell for slot machines at race tracks, it is time for the General Assembly to end the corrupt "charity" casinos now permitted in Prince George's County.

What's happened in P.G. is alarming. And what proponents of these casinos are seeking is even more frightening. One casino has been shut down after systematic skimming of cash was discovered. Over $550,000 is missing. The manager of a second casino is being investigated for embezzling $300,000. A third casino failed to file a proper audit two years ago and yet still is operating. And a fourth casino, shut down for two years for

accepting jewelry from gamblers short on cash, is now back in business.

Until recently, enforcement of gambling laws was laughable. Building and zoning inspectors regulated the gambling setups at 16 firehouses and banquet halls during most of Mr. Glendening's 12 years as county executive. Then the local sheriff took over the job and started a cleanup three years ago. Under new County Executive Wayne Curry, a Gaming Review Board was created for additional oversight.

But the panel was also set up to expand gambling. Black political leaders demand their fair share of the casino largess for their community projects. Five more licenses can be awarded, ++ bringing to 21 the number of legal casinos.

Limited charity gambling is allowed in many counties, including "tip-jars" in Western Maryland private clubs and a small number of slot machines in veterans and fraternal clubs on the Eastern Shore. But only in Prince George's has a huge gambling economy taken root -- $1 billion wagered each year and gross revenues of $59 million from twice-a-week casinos with blackjack, roulette, poker, pai gow and baccarat. The potential for corruption is enormous. No wonder so much cash keeps disappearing.

It is a disgrace and embarrassment. Sure, a fraction of the money actually goes toward charity and community causes. But that's a slim excuse for the big-time gambling and hanky-panky going on with millions in cash.

State lawmakers can end this charade next year. These casinos will shut down forever on May 25 unless the current statute is extended. Lawmakers should let the statute lapse.

And if political pressure is too intense for legislators to stand up to the P.G. casino interests, we expect Mr. Glendening to abide by his statement of Aug. 12: "No bill that authorizes slot machines or casinos will pass my desk."

Pub Date: 8/23/96

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