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Veterans club officials react to slot-machine proposal

January 17, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Officers of several Washington County veterans clubs reacted Monday to another attempt by lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow veterans organizations to operate slot machines to offset dire finances.

For years, lawmakers have been trying to pass legislation, in some form, to allow groups such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion to operate slots as a way to make extra revenue.  

Money from slots is desperately needed to make up for a decline in membership fees, general fundraising and revenue from rentals of halls for weddings and birthday parties, members of veterans groups said.

Legislative analysts estimate 160 veterans groups around the state could add as many as 800 total slot machines under a bill filed by Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, and Sen. Barry Glassman, R-Harford. The new slots could generate as much as $21 million in annual revenue for the groups, according to information attached to a bill filed last session.

Kellar Smith, commander of American Legion Post No. 42 in Hagerstown, said he believed that slot machines would take money away from tip jar gambling, which is the club’s largest revenue stream.

“I don’t want them,” Smith said of slot machines.

He said officials from other veterans clubs have told him that the introduction of Keno pulled money from tip jars. Smith said he thought slot machines might have the same effect.

But Norty Lucas, commander of American Legion Post No. 26 in Hancock, said any extra revenue would help because younger veterans aren’t interested in joining veterans clubs.

“I would support slots,” Lucas said. “Veterans associations are going down the tube. Anything we could get would help.”

Under the legislation, The American Legion and VFW would be allowed to operate as many as five slot machines at each post. The groups would pay a $50 annual fee for each machine to their respective county and be required to donate half of the earnings to charity.

An identical bill died last session in the House Ways and Means Committee on a 15-7 vote. Supporters are hopeful this session could be different because there’s an increased degree of comfort with slots, Glassman said.

Lucas and Smith said younger veterans aren’t joining veterans clubs such as The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars because they would rather socialize with young women at bars than male veterans in their 60s.

“It’s just tough to keep the doors open,” Lucas said. “I think every legion in Maryland is in that situation.”

Bill Sollenberger, finance officer of American Legion Post No. 211 in Funkstown, said he hasn’t been very involved with lobbying for slot machines, but he would support bringing them in to increase earnings. Many of the older American Legion members are sick or have died, he said, causing revenues to decrease.

“We have the perception of being old people’s clubs and the younger veterans don’t join,” he said.

Sollenberger said the decreasing membership has caused his post to cut financial aid to nonprofit organizations.

“We just can’t afford to do a whole lot right now,” he said.

Sam Snyder, finance officer of American Legion Post No. 222 in Clear Spring, said he hasn’t heard a lot about the slot-machine proposal.

He said he would support slot machines as long as gaming officials don’t take too much of the profits. Snyder said that after fees and taxes, veterans clubs lose close to 30 percent of their tip jar profits. They still make money off tip jars, he said, but not like they did before gaming officials stepped in several years ago.

Jim Hovis, director of the Washington County Gaming Office, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.

Capital News Service contributed to this story.

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