Total Ban on All Electronic Gaming on the Way

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Total Ban on All Electronic Gaming on the Way

ST. MARY'S COUNTY - 3/20/2008

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By Sean Rice, Managing Editor

 The Maryland Senate banned all “electronic gaming devices” on Tuesday, in response to a recent proliferation of machines that look and sound like casino slot machines in St. Mary’s County, and elsewhere in Southern Maryland.

 While the recent rush never amounted to 1,000 slots machines as reported in the local media, the nearest tally by St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron’s officers put more than 330 machines at near 20 locations.

The sheriff said Thursday morning he heard that some locations already have begun removing their machines. But, regardless of voluntary compliance or Legislative action, Cameron said his office is moving forward with the enforcement action.

 “We have a plan, and we’re sticking to the plan, and if the Legislature changes it, so be it,” Cameron told The Bay Net.

 The volume of data collected by officers is overwhelming, the sheriff said, but officers are proceeding quickly to enforce the law.

 “This is not a simple at all, there are a number of issues at play, we sliced into something bigger and broader than we thought,” Cameron said, going on to name the three main points in the law. They are: the type of machines used; the required bookkeeping and money dispersal, and; the maximum number allowed per site.

 St. Mary’s Sheriff's Public Information Officer Dep. Cindy Allen said all the gaming locations visited by teams of officers during the March 13 fact-finding mission were in violation of at least one aspect of state law.

 At the Brass Rail in Great Mills for example, a location that was spotlighted by local newspapers and television crews, Cameron said their machines are not the “Tab II” kind that case law specifies. At ADF Bingo in Charlotte Hall, there are too many machines for one location, according to the a recent Maryland Attorney General opinion.

 Dep. Allen said officers will start hand-delivering notices of non-compliance to each business as early as Monday. Cameron has said from the outset he is prepared to confiscate machines if needed.

 “My perspective was a little different before we did our inspection last Thursday,” Cameron said. “I had no idea we were talking about that amount of money.”

 For example, if a site has 20 machines that have an average take of $20 a day each, that’s $12,000 per month.

 “And a majority of that money is not staying local,” Cameron said. “The law says all of the money is to go to charity, in many cases they’re getting the smallest percentage of the cut.

 “I knew going in that all these businesses were trying their best to operate within the parameters of the law, and I still get that impression,” the sheriff said.

 Maryland Delegate Johnny Wood (D. Mechanicsville) told The Bay Net that this avenue of fundraising for local causes shouldn’t be written-off so quickly. However, he feels the House leadership will follow soon with a similar electronic gaming ban as to not jeopardize the coming November that seeks to put bona fide casino slots in five counties.

 “I have a problem with this,” Wood said Thursday. “We get one thing from the AG saying its legal, then we get something else three or four months later from someone else in the AG’s office that says it’s illegal.

 “The reason the machines appeared is because the people did research and found it to be legal,” Wood said. “And everybody’s doing what they can to make ends meet; the establishments are hurting, the charities are hurting."

 Delegate Wood said he spoke to Cameron this weekend, and also heard that everybody is doing the best they can detailing all of the bookkeeping and money. “They’re accounting for every penny,” Wood said.

 “There are 70 to 75 charities in St. Mary’s that are benefiting from this, it’s a good shot in the arm for them,” Wood continued. “I say give them six months, give them a year. Slow down and come up with the right opinion that the people can take to the bank, so to speak.”

 See story on sheriff’s fact-finding mission on March 13 here.

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