The machines can chew through bills quickly.
Three stools down from Huene, a rangy, bearded man in work jeans and a shirt with his first name sewn on the pocket steps unsteadily up to the bar, sets down his beer and peels off two $50 bills from a crumpled wad to change them into the $20s the machine he is playing will take. A short time later, the money gone, he reaches back into his pocket for the smaller bills he has left.
Some economic experts say that such "convenience" gambling at neighborhood bars is the worst possible form of gambling for a community. "If I had to outlaw any type of gambling, it would be video poker machines [at bars]," said David B. Johnson, a professor emeritus of economics at Louisiana State University. "It attracts people at the lowest income level. The more convenient you make gambling by having an outlet on almost every corner, the more troublesome it is."
In Maryland, most observers say there is little chance that any kind of gambling devices will be legalized until after Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a resolute gambling opponent, leaves office next year. But high-powered lobbyists and such influential legislators as Taylor are laying the groundwork to try to get slots approved at Maryland's racetracks.
If that happens, some say, bars will push for them as well - as happened in West Virginia after slots were approved for four tracks beginning in the mid-1990s.
"It's the same pattern that has developed in every other state that has legalized slots - first they say they want to save the racetracks, then the bar owners have to have them," said Kimberly S. Roman of Glen Burnie, a co-chairwoman of the anti-gambling group NocasiNO Maryland. "They'll say: `This is a monopoly. How can you say we can't have it?'"
That argument was posed in West Virginia's Legislature, along with the idea that it was better to legalize, tax and regulate gambling devices in bars than to allow illegal machines to proliferate around the state. The arguments were made by people such as Lee Wesson, one of West Virginia's largest video poker operators. His company, based in Keyser, is supplying 400 machines to bars around the state and hopes to expand to 675, the maximum one operator is allowed under West Virginia law.
"Gaming comes in many forms," Wesson said. "It's not really fair to exclude the existing, in-state small businesses who desperately need the additional revenue from gaming just to help pay the light bill or a manager's salary."
Wesson, a past president of the Amusement and Music Operators Association of West Virginia, said that organization backed legislative initiatives to bring slots to West Virginia's racetracks - even though the tracks were to buy and operate their own machines and there was no immediate benefit to association members.
"We felt it would help our position in the future - and it has," Wesson said. "People are going to gamble, it doesn't matter what you do. The state might as well tap that revenue."
He is betting that the prospects are good that gambling devices eventually will be legalized in Maryland as well. "Knowing the political climate in Maryland, I think it will eventually happen at some time," Wesson said. "I would certainly do anything I can do to help."