Veterans groups in Montgomery County soon might be able to operate gambling machines in their halls, if a proposal by two county lawmakers passes in next year's Maryland General Assembly sessions.
The legislation would allow up to five pull-tab instant lottery machines in the county's nine lodges and posts for the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations.
When lawmakers voted to expand gambling in the state during the August special session, they included a provision that would allow gambling machines for veterans organizations -- but didn't include Montgomery County. According to Gail Murdock, chairman of the Maryland American Legion's legislative committee, county lawmakers didn't want gambling of any kind in their jurisdiction.
After heavy lobbying from veterans groups that say they need the machines to raise much-needed funds, two state lawmakers -- Sen. Robert Garagiola and Del. Sheila Hixson, both Democrats from Montgomery County -- prepared a bill that would reverse the exception.
Montgomery County delegates have a scheduled a public hearing about the issue Monday night in Rockville.
Daniel Bullis, first vice president of the American Legion Post 41 in Silver Spring, said there are five American Legion clubhouses and four VFW posts in Montgomery County where members meet.
Financial difficulties have plagued most posts in the county, and many are under the threat of closing their doors, Bullis said. The gambling machines would bring in between $3,000 and $5,000 a month, which would help the lodges continue to operate, he said.
The groups would be required to give half of all the funds they receive from the machines to charity.
"It's not bringing gambling to Montgomery County to allow veteran organizations to have a few machines," Bullis said. "It's bringing an opportunity for us to continue to do our charity work, and that's the bottom line."
Bullis added the machines will not be open to the public, they will be accessible only to members of the American Legion and the VFW.