Odds improve for gambling law revisions

February 13, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - First they said they couldn't, then they said they wouldn't. Now some members of Washington County's legislative delegation say they could support changes to the tip jar gambling law this year.

That was the outcome of a pair of meetings Wednesday between local lawmakers and members of the Washington County Gaming Commission, which is urging legislation that would make what it considers minor changes to the existing law.

The commission's argument was persuasive enough that at least some of its proposals are finding support in the delegation.

But Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who chairs the county delegation, said he isn't sure there is enough support to get a bill passed this year. He suggested that all county gambling issues be addressed after the 90-day General Assembly session ends in April, so legislation could be drafted in time for next year.


"I just think we need to deal with it over the interim," said Donoghue.

Donoghue, who has said he is not opposed to gambling legislation this year, said there might be a need for a delegation meeting soon to finally sort out what direction the lawmakers want to take.

The legislative merry-go-round over the gambling issue began last month when the delegation decided not to make any changes to the tip jar law. Their reasoning was that the anti-gambling stance taken by Gov. Parris N. Glendening would mean any gaming measure would be vetoed.

But last week, Glendening said that he is not opposed to existing "community-based" forms of gambling like tip jars and bingo. At about that same time, the delegation was criticized by Gaming Commission member Paul Muldowney, who called lawmakers "cowardly" in not pursuing gambling legislation.

Donoghue said he was not opposed to pursuing a bill. But then last Thursday he said the issue was dead this year because he could find no support for the idea among the eight delegation members.

Gaming Commission Chairwoman Sue Tuckwell told lawmakers Wednesday of three changes that panel is proposing. The changes would:

  • Remove the prohibition of board members of nonprofit agencies to serve on the commission.
  • Extend the term of commission members from two to four years.
  • Remove the law's 1999 expiration date, or sunset.

Tuckwell called the amendments "administrative changes" that are "in no way intended to introduce radical change to the intent of the gaming law."

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he could support the three proposed amendments.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said he could support "minor" changes of extending the terms and allowing board members of nonprofit agencies to serve as commission members.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, agreed, but said he would like to see a three-year term limit. Neither Munson nor Poole support lifting the sunset date.

Munson said keeping the expiration date in the law makes good sense with an issue as volatile as gambling.

"We need to force this to be reviewed on a regular basis," he said.

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