Miller, Busch Will Propose Ban on Video Gaming Machines

Video gaming machines have proliferated in St. Mary's County. Senate leader Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. called them
Video gaming machines have proliferated in St. Mary's County. Senate leader Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. called them "counterfeit slot machines." (By Cathleen Allison -- Associated Press)
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By Philip Rucker and Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Faced with a proliferation of video gaming machines at bars and restaurants in St. Mary's County and elsewhere, leaders of the Maryland General Assembly said they will introduce emergency legislation today to ban the devices.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who have long been sharply divided on whether to legalize slot machines in the state, were united yesterday in condemning video bingo and similar devices, which generate money for private entrepreneurs with no state benefit.

Miller called the devices "counterfeit slot machines" and said they "have sprung up almost like a disease."

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will sign the legislation if it comes to his desk, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. "The governor thinks Marylanders will have the opportunity to vote on the appropriate levels of slot machines come November," Abbruzzese said.

The November referendum will determine whether slot machines are permitted at five specified locations. Miller has been a leading proponent of legalizing slots as a way to boost the horse racing industry and reap hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the state government.

Yesterday, Miller and Busch said growing numbers of video bingo devices threaten the state's lottery system. The machines have spawned "an underground economy that you don't have any control of," Busch said.

"The expansion of these gambling machines not only goes against the grain of what we tried to accomplish in the [slots] referendum but also seems to cannibalize our lottery system," he said.

Slot machines are illegal in Maryland, but other electronic gaming devices, some of which are designed to resemble slot machines, have been permitted in a few counties if the proceeds go to nonprofit organizations.

The companies that own the machines may take a cut to cover their expenses, as can the owners of the bars or restaurants where they are installed.

The emergency legislation, which would take effect as soon as it is signed into law, would prohibit video poker, electronic bingo and similar machines across the state. A violation would be punishable by up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000.

The measure would exempt non-electronic bingo used solely by nonprofit organizations if 100 percent of the proceeds goes to charities.

The legislation will be formally introduced today by Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), chairman of the Finance Committee, and Del. Frank S. Turner (D-Howard), chairman of a subcommittee that oversees gaming.

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