OCEAN CITY — After four years of often contentious debate and disappointing outcomes in the state legislature, slot machine gambling began this week in service clubs for veterans’ groups and fraternal organizations in Ocean City and across Worcester County.
For each of the last four years, a bill that would have added Worcester to the list of eight Eastern Shore counties that allow a limited number of slot machines in non-profit service clubs and organizations in an effort to enhance their fundraising capabilities passed through the House before dying a painful death in the Senate chamber on the last day of the session.
This year, however, the fourth time was the charm as the legislation cruised through the different chambers and was signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
A little over the month after the slots for service clubs bill became law, the machines were up and running at various locations across Worcester County on Wednesday, the first official day they could legally be operated. On Wednesday afternoon, the first video gaming terminals went on line at the Elks Club in Ocean City.
A couple hours later, a handful of officers along with Sen. James Mathias took their first chances at the new slot machines at the American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City.
American Legion Post 1666 Commander Sarge Garlitz, who was on the front lines of several bitter defeats for the legislation over the last four years, was among the first to have a go at the new gambling machines, along with Mathias, who briefly snuck away from Stephen Decatur’s graduation a few blocks away to be there for the momentous occasion before returning to the commencement ceremonies.
After a few ceremonial first pulls on the slot machines, Garlitz, Mathias and a handful of American Legion officers gave way to other members of the post who played throughout the rest of the evening. Garlitz said the first night was a big success.
“It went very well,” he said. “We had our people playing on them all night and a couple of our long-time members even managed to cash in and take a little money home with them.”
Starting in 1987, state law allowed a limited number of slot machines in service clubs, veterans’ organizations and fraternal organizations across the Eastern Shore as a means to enhance their fundraising efforts. State law requires at least 50 percent of the proceeds from the machines be donated back to charities in the counties in which they are located.
Garlitz said yesterday time will tell how the slots at the American Legion and other service clubs will fare, although there is certainly a substantial track record for success. Slots in service clubs represent a big boost for their fundraising efforts. Last year, for example, the 273 slot machines located in the eight other Eastern Shore counties rang up a total of nearly $55 million, over half of which went right back to the multitude of local charities the clubs support.
“By the end of the summer, we’ll have a better idea of how we’re doing,” he said. “The most important thing is that almost every dollar pumped into those five machines will go right back into the community for the charities we support.”