Veterans Getting the Shaft

John J. Walters Oct 23, 2012

In my most recent policy report, What’s Hidden in Expanded Gambling Legislation, I am critical of the treatment that veterans’ organizations receive. It seems ridiculous that they have had to wait all this time to benefit from legalized slots while casino operators stand to make millions upon millions. But I didn’t realize how bad the situation was until I received an email from a legislative assistant to one of  Maryland’s (few) republican delegates.

He broke down the evolution of the legislation concerning the legal use of slot machines to benefit veterans’ organizations for me. I’ll do my best to summarize here.

<> Slot machines in Eastern Shore veterans’ organizations were grandfathered in when we legalized slots state-wide. The only requirement was that they pay an annual fee to the state.

<> In 2010 and 2011, there was a push to extend this kind of agreement to the rest of the counties in the state. Then, an amendment was proposed that would divvy up revenues among the counties, the state, and other charities before the original veterans’ organizations got their cut.

<> After the defeat of the above bill, another bill was proposed that further tweaked the disbursement of revenues. This had the support of the American Legion even though less money would be going to veterans’ organizations and more would be going to the state’s General Fund.

<> During the 2012 Special Session, final legislation was adopted that gives 2.75% of revenues to the state’s Veterans’ Trust Fund and 5.5% to the veterans’ organization that hosts the machines. The General Fund receives 24.75% (four times the amount that vets will receive!); the rest will go to other charities and the counties.

If it doesn’t yet seem like our veterans are getting the shaft here, wait until you hear the rest of it. Organizations will have to lease the slot machines from the state at a cost of anywhere between $7,500 and $25,000. Given the slim margins and the high costs, it may actually turn out that a veterans’ organization that leases a machine will end up in debt at the end of the year!

In short: it has taken our legislators four years (and counting) to create a bill that allows veterans’ organizations in certain counties only to receive a small portion of the proceeds from no more than five slot machines, which they are forced to lease from the state at seemingly-inflated prices. Wonderful.

Throughout this entire process, skeptical Delegates were denied access to the language of what would become the final bill until the last possible moment. All the while, they were assured that “this is the same bill you’ve always supported.”

This is how business gets done in the back rooms of Annapolis, and how the little guy gets the shaft so that our state government can continue spending like it’s going out of style. Nothing really new here…