Video poker machines would be subject to new licensing fees of $3,000 and exempted from the amusement tax under a proposal that the Baltimore City Council is considering as a way of generating revenue for the city's ailing budget.
Currently, the money the machines make is taxed at the 10 percent amusement tax rate. But City Councilman Robert W. Curran says that many of the machines in the city are not registered and the tax is not paid, and that his bill, introduced in February, would ensure that more become registered. The city estimates the plan could generate $3 million to $5 million each year.
The proposal was discussed Thursday at a City Council meeting.
First in line to support the plan were members of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), who hope that the money from the new source of revenue would help keep open recreation centers and fund youth programs.
Young BUILD member Brianna Fergason stood before the council and prompted them to adopt the plan: "Don't give us any excuses. Just do the right thing."
As others waited to speak, council members proceeded to hash out the initiative's details among themselves regarding the definition of a "simulated slot machine" and how many of them the bill would allow an establishment to have.
Baltimorean Charlie Wilhelm opposed the plan because of the poker machines themselves. Wilhelm, who was involved in organized crime in Baltimore before becoming an informant for the FBI, said that "a lot of the money [for organized crime] came from video machines" and that they were "the best thing that ever happened to us. Nobody ever checked the machines."
Responding to another speaker who questioned the legality of the machines, Curran said that it was a nonissue and that the machines were legal. Council member Mary Pat Clarke ordered that a full review of the issue be drafted before the council moves forward with the bill.