Anne Arundel reviews video-bingo machines

February 02, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold has asked county lawyers to review a 2005 county law that effectively expanded commercial bingo and allowed for the licensing of video-bingo machines, which are almost indistinguishable from casino-style slots and now pack three county bingo halls.

Also yesterday, the state comptroller's office agreed to a written request by Leopold to review whether the county's three bingo establishments are paying the proper amount of amusement taxes.

"I just want the make sure the county receives the maximum amount of revenue to which it is entitled," said Leopold, a Republican opposed to expanding gambling.

Leopold's action followed an article in The Sun on Thursday revealing that nearly 200 instant video-bingo machines had been installed in the past year at Bingo World in Brooklyn Park, Delta Daily Double Bingo in Laurel and Wayson's Bingo in Lothian.

A spokesman for State Comptroller Peter Franchot, Joe Shapiro, said a review of the bingo halls' accounts could be complete as early as today.

Franchot called Leopold yesterday morning before receiving the letter to discuss the machines, which display spinning cherries, 7's and BAR icons and spit out vouchers that can be redeemed for hundreds of dollars. Some patrons likened them to slot machines, which are illegal in Maryland.

"He pledged to the county executive to support him in any way he can," Shapiro said of Franchot, who as a state delegate in 2004 supported freezing the number of video-bingo machines at bingo halls.

Leopold said he would wait for a legal review to be complete before reaching a decision on the machines.

Several former and current County Council members and Leopold's predecessor, Janet S. Owens, said they supported the 2005 bill - which offered larger prizes and a wider variety of games - as a way of propping up the local bingo industry.

Owens and several council members said the unintended result was a proliferation of the video-bingo machines.

Video-bingo games produce results by reading a spool of preprinted pull-tabs housed within the machine. A 2001 Court of Appeals ruling declared these machines legal in the three Maryland counties that allow bingo.

Traditional slots, meanwhile, rely on a random-number generator to produce results and have no preprinted paper component or limit on payouts.

Leopold said he wants legal counsel to determine whether the 2005 law is being "implemented correctly, to determine the difference between pull tabs and full-blown slots."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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