Many veterans organizations in Maryland are thrilled to finally be allowed to operate slotlike machines at their posts, but some lawmakers are concerned that gambling could overrun local neighborhoods.
A last-minute amendment to the gambling bill passed by the General Assembly in this month's special session, the measure allows for up to five instant-ticket lottery machines at American Legion halls and Veterans of Foreign Wars facilities in every county but Montgomery.
In Prince George's, there could be gambling machines at the county's 26 veterans facilities.
Unlike the larger bill -- which authorizes a casino site in Prince George's County and table games -- the measure regarding veterans gambling machines does not require the approval of voters statewide in November.
Gail Murdock, chairman of the Maryland American Legion's legislative committee, said bills for years have been introduced to allow gambling machines at veterans halls. The proceeds will help fund the organizations and the charities they support, much like machines have been used by Eastern Shore veterans groups for years.
But the bills had repeatedly failed due to objections from Montgomery County lawmakers, who sought to prevent gambling of any kind from entering their jurisdiction, Murdock said, leaving veterans there without the machines.
"We're disappointed that they excluded us," said Ken Gaines, commander at American Legion Post 41 in Silver Spring. "We've been looking forward to it for the last few years, but the Montgomery County delegation made the steps to keep us from getting those."
With up to five machines per post, each veterans organization could raise roughly $30,000 for itself and the state, Murdock said.
About 90 percent of the money put into the instant-lottery machines is paid back to the player. The other 10 percent initially would be split -- 6 percent for the veterans organization and 4 percent for the state.
Del. Doyle Niemann, D-Prince George's, said the amendment to the gambling bill is too broad in defining what a veterans organization is, leaving open an opportunity for gambling to pop up all over the county.
"This is a tremendous expansion of slot machines," Niemann said. "And they are slots. They're the functional equivalent of slot machines."
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, D-Prince George's, said the programs at veterans halls will be similarly operated to the machines have been run for years on the Eastern Shore, and would be strictly limited to those veterans posts.
And access to gamble at those facilities isn't granted to anyone who walks in off the street.
"You have to be a member of the post, or you have to be sponsored as a guest," Peters said, citing the strict liquor license laws at the posts.