After six months of study, the Prince George's County Council will consider placing new restrictions on charity-run gambling today, including tighter reporting requirements. But there were indications that the council will stop short of significantly limiting the number of events organizations may stage.
The drive toward an overhaul of county gambling laws began amid concern that professionals were infiltrating charity-run events and turning friendly poker nights into big-money, Las Vegas-style nights.
There have been stories about free food, cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and credit card cash advances to encourage continued play. Some volunteer fire departments and churches ran the gambling events three or four times a week, sometimes from 11 a.m. to the wee hours of the next morning.
Still, some council members say that limiting an organization to 24 gambling events each year -- as a state task force has recommended -- would take away a key fundraising tool that has netted some nonprofit groups thousands of dollars a year.
"The task force overreacted in its recommendations," said council member James M. Herl. "To be as restrictive . . . would severely financially strap these organizations, and they will soon be petitioning the County Council for money."
Herl is sponsoring a bill that would allow gambling events up to three nights a week per organization, but would require strict reporting procedures and that the sponsoring group be in operation in the county for at least three years before staging such an event.
A competing bill, sponsored by council members Jo Ann T. Bell and F. Kirwan Wineland, would limit gambling events to twice a month. However, Wineland said yesterday that he expects amendments to ease the bill's limits on the number of gambling nights allowed each organization.
The Bell-Wineland bill also would increase the county licensing fee from $50 per event to $100, and the money would be used to finance a position in the county's licensing office to oversee the issuing of gambling permits.
"We wanted to make sure that others couldn't slip in as a charitable organizations," said Bell.
Casino gambling nights, often with Atlantic City-style roulette wheels and blackjack and poker card games, have become a staple for nonprofit county organizations to raise money for charity, firefighting equipment and new church and recreation buildings.
Under current county and state laws, for a fee of $50 a night, charity groups may hold gambling nights as often as they like, from four times a year to four times a week. The county prohibits dice games and cash prizes of more than $1,000, but places few other restrictions on the events. Tipping is allowed, as are cash advances, free alcohol, food and cigarettes. Reporting requirements are minimal.
A task force created by the General Assembly last year to study the issue recommended limiting each organization to 24 events this year and 12 events a year beginning in 1989. The task force also proposed that groups be prohibited from reimbursing workers for expenses, renting or leasing gambling equipment from professional companies and holding events in buildings other than those owned by the nonprofit organizations or churches.
Also, all organizations that raise more than $50,000 a year would have to submit certified financial audits, and giving free food and alcohol to patrons would be prohibited.
The task force report has been introduced as a bill before the General Assembly.