The third time was not the charm for Worcester’s fraternal slots bill, but luck had nothing to do with it. Political shenanigans doomed the bill, and it’s unclear exactly why it had to happen the way it did.
House Bill 56 would have permitted Worcester-based service clubs the opportunity to offer slot machines to members and their guests. Currently, Worcester is the only county on the shore unable to have them. Proceeds from these slots would in turn be spread out throughout the non-profit community. Approximately $1 million was estimated as the potential annual proceeds.
The bill’s demise reveals politics at its absolute worst. This innocuous and simple bill got lumped in with another gambling measure across the state. For unclear reasons, this local courtesy bill became linked to a controversial measure allowing card games to be played at a racetrack on the western shore. Eventually, everything fell apart, leaving the fraternal clubs once again on the outside looking in, and their spokespeople understandably angry and frustrated.
The situation in Annapolis got complicated and there was no reason for it. It’s difficult to find a reasonable explanation to tie a severely controversial amendment to add card games to a future slots parlor to this local bill, which is supported by local governments.
All this bill would have done was bring equity and parity to Worcester County. It would have allowed county service clubs the opportunity to do what all others on the shore can do – offer a few slot machines to members and guests to play at their leisure and distribute most of the proceeds to various community programs chosen by the individual fraternal organizations.
It was a strange set of circumstances that led to the bill’s demise for the third straight year. What’s clear is shady political dealings and backdoor maneuvering led to a flurry of activity on the last days of this year’s session. The legislation was bouncing from the House to the Senate and from committee to committee and eventually died when a decision was made to not form a Senate committee to review amendments passed by the House.
In all actuality, this bill was doomed once it was lumped in with the card games and slots dilemma. The fact was any notion to further expand gambling needed to go before state voters in the form of a referendum, leaving the bill in trouble or at least delayed until that happened.
This bill will pass one day, a disappointed Delegate Jim Mathias pledged this week. Whether he is representing constituents in Annapolis or not, he vowed to continue the fight for this legislation. He said it’s a worthwhile bill that will affect residents throughout the county and has no downside.