Carroll seniors bring down the House on wagering bill

General Assembly

March 26, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

While many legislative bills are bogged down in committees, the proposal to allow small-time wagering at Carroll County's senior centers is well on its way to becoming law.

At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing this month, lively testimony from seniors intent on securing their right to gamble dimes and quarters led legislators to take immediate action. The committee approved the bill. Last week, it went to the state Senate for consideration.

"It is not a done deal until it is signed," said Jolene Sullivan, county director of citizen services, who accompanied 13 seniors to Annapolis. "We still have the Senate side to climb, but overwhelming support from the Ways and Means Committee speaks volumes."

Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, who sponsored the bill, said the Carroll contingent "kept the committee laughing, especially when they said they had been gambling for years at the senior centers not knowing they were breaking the law.

"The chairman actually enjoyed the testimony," Stocksdale said. "She took the chairman's prerogative and voted right then. I have never seen that before."

After more than two hours of testimony on million-dollar issues, such as racing and slots, four Carroll seniors testified that small-stakes betting, usually less than $1, enlivens their bingo, card and billiard games.

Ben Blye, 76, had prepared his testimony but decided to "wing it," he said.

"We listened to racing interests go on and on about millions and hours of debate about money," he said. "Our issue was so simple, I think the committee did not want to spend time debating. I tried to add a little humor and keep it light."

Sullivan said, "We talked about pennies and nickels and literally brought down the House."

The seniors assisted in writing the bill and have lobbied for it since it was introduced. The bill would allow limited gambling at Carroll's five senior centers, where nickel-a-game keeps bingo lively and penny-ante pots attract players to poker.

"We play for fun with betting being incidental," Blye said. "It adds a little pizazz. There's nothing wrong. It's not like we are running a casino."

On his first visit to the Westminster Senior Center last week, Walter Haschert, 83, said he would probably return, especially if gambling is allowed.

"Nothing evil will come of minor gambling," Haschert said.

Sullivan rode home from Annapolis with several ecstatic seniors.

"The first thing folks asked was, `Can we start gambling again?'" she said.

Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll, said she has never seen a bill "sail through like the bingo thing did."

"It just shows what a good case our seniors made and that citizen involvement can push a bill along," Krebs said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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