Slots Not An Issue This Year
ANNAPOLIS - With much of the focus of the General Assembly this year focused on major issues such as the smoking ban, improved health care, stronger sex offender laws and others, the effort to approve slots in Maryland barely got out of the box this year after dominating the legislature for the last four years, but local representatives said this week the 's' word is still smoldering under the surface.
No less than a dozen bills were introduced in the General Assembly this year advocating slot machines in Maryland, but not one ever made it out of their respective committees. The two most prominent slots bills this year were introduced by Senate President Thomas V. 'Mike' Miller and Delegate Galen Clagett, which were similar and called for a limited number of slot machines at racetracks across the state including Ocean Downs with the revenue dedicated to an Education Trust Fund for school construction projects.
Other notable bills related to slots included Senate Bill 216, which would have put the issue to the residents of the state in the form of a statewide straw ballot question during the next election; and a handful of other bills that would have allowed slot machines at various service clubs such as American Legions and VFW halls. Yet another bill - the so-called Vessel Gaming Act - would have allowed slot machines on certain docked or at sea vessels.
None of the proposed slots bills saw the light of day this year after the issue was fiercely debated during the last several sessions, but that doesn't mean there is no longer an interest in the gaming machines in Annapolis. With a predicted $1.5 billion structural deficit predicted in the next two years, state lawmakers are looking for new revenue sources.
'There hasn't been very much discussion about slots this year, and with five days left in the session, it doesn't appear any of these bills will move,' said Delegate Jim Mathias. 'Slots will probably be part of a revenue package we consider when we start tackling the projected deficit next year.'
Senator Lowell Stoltzfus agreed slots were barely discussed in the current session. 'I think it's been a muted issue this year, but it certainly isn't going to go away,' he said.
State lawmakers are expected to convene in a rare special session in September when the Board of Revenue comes out with its latest figures for the predicted structural deficit and slots will likely be a hot button issue.
'The predicted structural deficit is the 800-pound gorilla we're now facing and slots will be a big part of that discussion,' said Stoltzfus.