Veterans’ groups from Montgomery County soon may be allowed to operate gambling machines in their halls, a privilege denied to them during the August special General Assembly session.
When lawmakers voted to expand gambling in the state, they included a provision to allow some gambling machines at veterans organizations west of the Chesapeake Bay — except in Montgomery County, where delegates were reluctant to sign on without local discussion and hearings.
Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown and Del. Sheila E. Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring have prepared a bill to do away with that exemption in the upcoming legislative session.
“It’s a good bill,” Garagiola said. The machines would give a financial boost to veterans groups and help them to continue their charitable work in the community, he said.
The bill allows groups such as American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Montgomery to have up to five pull-tab instant lottery machines. Groups in the other western-shore counties were included in the legislation this summer, and Eastern Shore veterans’ organizations have been allowed to operate slot machines for years.
Gail Murdock, chairwoman of the American Legion’s state legislative committee, estimated this summer that revenue from five pull-tab machines could total as much as $30,000 per year per post.
“There’s no reason to exclude Montgomery,” Garagiola said, adding that veterans groups in the county began contacting him the day after the expansion bill was approved, asking that they be included as well.
Many organizations are struggling due to declining membership, and the machines will help keep the nonprofit organizations afloat and offer grants to local charities, said Daniel Bullis, first vice president of American Legion Post 41 in Silver Spring.
“What we’re about is not gambling, it’s giving,” Bullis said, adding that because the organizations were private, only members would be allowed to use the machines. “It’s not like anyone at all can come in and play,” he said.
Such restrictions should remove any fears that the bill would bring full, casino-style venues to the county, Garagiola said.
County lawmakers will need to approve the bill before it is considered by the full legislature, and Garagiola said while he hadn’t yet spoken to each delegate, the response so far had been positive.
A hearing on county bills will be held Dec. 3 in Rockville.