During last week's heat wave, the members of the Silver Spring Moose Lodge were anything but alarmed when two men dressed as air-conditioning repairmen wandered in.
While one of the men appeared to be working on the air conditioning, the other dropped some quarters into the two new slot-machine-like gambling devices that had been set up to raise money to build some new bathrooms at the lodge.
But things got hotter, rather than cooler, when the visitors next took out a camera and began photographing the machines.
Then temperatures in the clubhouse really climbed as the two men turned and announced that they were Montgomery County police officers and issued a citation for possession of gambling paraphernalia to Moose lodge Governor Howard Timothy McNamara. "They knew right away why we were there," said Officer Rob Seek, one of the two bogus repairmen.
Afterward, the officers seized the machines as evidence.
Seek and the other officer, George Bransom, both assigned to the vice and intelligence squad, said they decided to use the hot-weather ploy of disguising themselves as air conditioning repairmen to gain entry to the lodge after they received an anonymous telephone tip that the gambling machines were in the lodge.
"My God! It isn't like we're running a gambling lodge or anything," McNamara told The Montgomery Journal. "All we were trying to do is raise money to put in new restrooms for our older folks." McNamara asserted that many of the Moose lodge members--whose average age is 55--have difficulty climbing the two flights of stairs to the lodge's only existing restrooms.
The two blue, two-foot-high machines, which were attached to a wall, resemble postage stamp machines, according to Seek. When one of three levers is pulled, the machine dispenses a playing card marked with symbols beneath five flaps. The symbols are similar to those on one-arm bandits, Seek said.
"Three bars wins $100, three cherries wins $1," he said. "The card also tells how many winners there can be. One said 24 hundred-dollar winners."
Maryland law prohibits possession of gambling machines, and police said that McNamara, if convicted, faces a fine of $200 to $1,000 or up to a year imprisonment, or both. Trial has been set for Sept. 6.
The police action left members of the Silver Spring lodge angry, according to one who asked that his name not be used. "The membership is very upset. I can guarantee we're not the only club that has these machines. I can name them all," the member said. He declined to do so.
Spokesmen for other area Moose lodges said the use of such machines for fund-raising is not uncommon. According to Raymond Fugate, secretary of Suitland Moose Lodge No. 1856, "It's a common thing. The only gambling we do is bingo, but everybody does that. We also raffle tickets to Redskins games, but every lodge is operated individually."
Three years ago, police confiscated 10 gambling machines in raids on a half dozen other fraternal lodges in the county.