Electronic gambling device ban could affect jobs, boost slots

The ban, expected to affected 1,000 machines in bingo parlors and bars across the state, awaits the governor’s signature. The gambling devices are similar to slots with spinning sevens and cherries but legal under a legislative loophole.

Supporters of the ban, including House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, said the games compete with the state lottery and legitimate slot machines that could be legalized in a November referendum.

“The fact of the matter is, you lose revenue by not voting on this for the state of Maryland,” Busch said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley said he has not yet read the bill and needs to study it. The governor, a slots supporter, noted the proposal “wasn’t an administration priority.” He has until the end of May to sign the bill or veto it.

Opponents of the ban, including most lawmakers from Anne Arundel County, say the machines are tightly regulated. Anne Arundel is home to about 200 devices in three commercial bingo halls.

If signed by O’Malley, the county stands to lose about $1.6 million in annual taxes and fees, and some parlor employees could lose their jobs.

Larry Weinstein, president of Odenton-based Atlantic Bingo Supply — which provides the machines to the county’s bingo parlors in Maryland City, Brooklyn Park and Wayson’s Corner — said he hopes lawmakers reverse their decision in the next legislative session.

“Today, I’m OK,” Weinstein said. “We’ll see what the legislative appetite is for three places that do it right.”

The proposal prompted heavy debate in the House of Delegates’ sprint to Monday’s midnight adjournment of the 90-day session. Lawmakers voted to grant an extension to comply with volunteer fire companies, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion halls, but balked at a proposal to exempt commercial bingo halls.

The proposal passed by two votes but later failed as Busch urged a reconsideration vote. The speaker, who represents Annapolis, accused the amendment sponsor, Del. Mary Anne Love, of mischaracterizing it as applying only to halls in Anne Arundel.