ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Much of Maryland's debate on expanding gambling to include table games like roulette and craps has focused on who will get what, how much and when.
A fund for problem gamblers, however, is not assured of getting anything from an expansion to table games.
Joanna Franklin, president of the Maryland Council on Problem Gambling, was in Annapolis last week urging lawmakers on House and Senate committees to approve a $1,000-per-table annual fee to help adjust to an expansion to table games like blackjack, after she learned nothing had been included in a draft of the bill.
The Senate, which passed the measure on Friday, changed the legislation to note that a state gambling commission may create an annual fee of up to $500 for each table game for problem gambling.
Franklin said that amount is "pretty pitiful," considering how much money a table will generate in a year. She described a $1,000-a-table fee as a tiny fraction of 1 percent of a table's revenue.
"The problem is you can't just do lip service," Franklin said. "That's what it feels like."
Franklin also said she's bothered by the lack of certainty in the bill's current language.
"The big battle now is to get it from may to shall," Franklin said.
The bill does require an annual $425 fee for each slot machine to help problem gamblers. That fee was approved by lawmakers in 2007 to help pay for a study on the prevalence of gambling every five years and to develop a network of treatment services for problem gamblers. The state also has a voluntary exclusion program for gamblers. Last month, the program announced it had 100 participants.
However, advocates say table games will attract more people, and they believe more money is called for to help additional problem gamblers.
Franklin said the money is needed for advertising to let people know about help that is available, including a 24-hour help line: 1-800-522-4700.
Maryland lawmakers have gathered for a special session to consider allowing table games and a new casino site in Prince George's County. The Senate passed legislation Friday on a 28-14 vote. The House of Delegates, where the measure is expected to face a greater challenge, will be working on the legislation Monday.
Maryland currently has three open casinos with slot machine gambling. Two other sites have been licensed for casinos. A Prince George's casino, if it is approved, could not open until 2016.
Voters would have the final say on gambling expansion in November, if legislation is approved.
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