Frederick veterans want slots in their posts

ANNAPOLIS — Suffering from recession-weakened revenue, Frederick County veterans groups have proposed a possible cure: slot machines.

Representatives of the Middletown and Frederick posts of the AMVETS appeared Wednesday at a committee hearing in Annapolis to support legislation that would allow them to put up to five of the machines in their meeting halls.

“Believe me, at this economic time, it’s tough surviving, and our charities will suffer if we don’t have more income,” Larrie Welsh, commander of the Frederick AMVETS post, told the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

The bill requested by the Frederick County Commissioners would also allow fraternal, religious and nonprofit organizations to raise funds with slots. At least half the revenue would have to support a charity, but the organization could have the remainder, the legislation indicates.

State law already allows organizations in Eastern Shore jurisdictions to raise funds with slot machines, and the proposal would add Frederick County to the list.

In fiscal 2011, 60 groups on the Eastern Shore raised revenue through slots, according to an analysis from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. Reports from 56 of those organizations showed that they took in about $5.2 million, $2.6 million of which went to charity, the analysis showed.

Frederick County veterans groups have noticed that nearby Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races has cut into their ability to raise funds with tip jars, a type of paper gambling.

During the committee hearing, Hugh Warner, representing the AMVETS Department of Maryland, asked senators to visit the West Virginia venue on giveaway night to see for themselves how much money is leaving their state.

“You couldn’t find a place to park,” Warner said. “It’s packed with Maryland cars.”

A petition requesting the slots legislation circulated among Frederick County veterans and fraternal organizations, Sen. David Brinkley, who introduced the bill along with Sen. Ron Young, told the committee.

If the proposal succeeds, the slots wouldn’t be open to the public at AMVETS posts, Warner said; only members would be allowed to play.

The group representatives said their revenue allows them to help the community. For example, the AMVETS posts offer scholarships to local high school students.

“Charity begins at home,” Welsh said, adding that if the AMVETS can’t gather additional funds, some of these local acts of kindness might disappear.

In addition to the Frederick County legislation, Warner said his group supported another bill that would give organizations across the state the ability to raise money using slots.

Also during the Budget and Taxation Committee hearing, Brinkley presented a bill that would allow the local commissioners to determine the number of raffle permits certain organizations in Frederick County can receive each year.

The committee did not vote on any of the Frederick County bills Wednesday.

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