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Slots bill is expected this session

January 13, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Chairman Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, informed House Ways and Means Committee members Wednesday that Gov. Robert Ehrlich told her he planned to introduce yet another bill to legalize slot machine gambling in Maryland during this year's General Assembly session.

And, as many Washington County officials have feared, "charitable gaming is still an issue if we go with slots," she said.

Hixson introduced a bill in the 2005 legislative session that would have put regulation of charitable gaming activities - such as tip jars - in the hands of the state comptroller's office.

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After the defeat last year of two slots bills - and fierce opposition by local gaming officials - that bill died in Hixson's committee.

After a November committee briefing on charitable gaming, Hixson told The Herald-Mail that no bill to regulate it had yet been drafted, but there might be "some tweaking" of last year's bill.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, serve on the Ways and Means Committee. Along with the rest of the Washington County Delegation, they have consistently opposed state regulation of charitable gaming.

"I know that the governor is gonna propose another slots bill this year," said Myers, who has opposed every slots bill proposed on moral grounds, and plans to oppose this year's bill as well.

While McKee favors legalization of slots, he said that if Hixson tries to tie a charitable gaming bill to the slots measure, "LeRoy and I will work hard to see that it goes nowhere" - even if such a bill were to exempt Washington County.

"I still don't see anything happening with slots this year," he said.

Local gaming officials traveled to Annapolis in November at Hixson's invitation to report to the committee how charitable gaming is regulated in Washington County. They had testified against Hixson's bill last year, saying their system was working well enough without involving the comptroller's office.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook told the committee at the November briefing that in the 10 years the local gambling regulation has been in place, the gaming office has distributed more than $28 million to nonprofit organizations.

Local officials established the county's gaming regulations through measures approved by the General Assembly during the early 1990s. Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, said he would work to block any attempt to bring the state into the regulation process.

"I shepherded the gaming legislation through the General Assembly in the early '90s," he said. "It has been a boon for charitable organizations through the years.

"I will work closely with the leadership, including the Speaker of the House, to make sure that we remain whole."

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