Prince George's County residents looking for a poker game may be able to find one long before the county's new casino opens in 2016.
A bill being considered by the Prince George's delegation to the Maryland House of Delegates would allow charity poker games to be held by local organizations that obtain a permit from the county.
Permits would be limited to volunteer fire departments that have operated in the county for 10 years or more and nonprofits "that promote the arts and preserve the culture" of the county and have also been around for at least a decade.
"It's strictly for raising funds," said Chuck Walker, president of the Prince George's County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. "We're pretty much at rope's end, and we felt this was a good way to go at it."
Many departments' firetrucks were bought in the 1990s with the help of casino nights featuring poker games. That changed in 1997, when the state cracked down after multiple charities were found to have embezzled money from their casino night fundraisers. Only the much less profitable bingo is allowed now.
Some critics, however, look at the push as an attempt at further expansion of local gambling -- hand in hand with the legalization of slot machines at veterans halls, a little-discussed part of the ballot initiative passed in November.
"I had warned people that with the passage of Question 7, that would open up the door for gambling at places that had not been discussed," said Arthur Turner, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's County Community Organizations. "We just haven't figured it out in Prince George's County. Shamefully."
The bill has been introduced several years in a row and has yet to find success. While the promise of a new in-county casino, along with the legalization of table games at casinos statewide, could help make local charity poker more palatable, the availability of casino poker could also negate the bill's intended purpose.
"I understand the need for more funding, but I don't know if this is the right way to go about it or not," said Jolene Ivey, D-Prince George's, and chairwoman of the county's House delegation. "I'm not sure that the state is going to want to increase competition."