April 12, 2012

Legislature OKs bill expanding reach of slots

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- The House gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow veterans groups and charitable fraternal organizations to operate up to five slot machines at their locations.

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The House vote was 88-57, but a final Senate vote is pending. The Senate passed the bill 19-14 on Monday, and it is expected to earn final passage, said key Senate committee members.

The Christian Civic League urged legislators to reject the bill because it expands gambling in Maine. In an email blast sent Wednesday morning, the league said voters have not approved the concept and neither should lawmakers.

"This is not a veterans' bill, and legislators should not wrap the American flag around slot machines," the group wrote.

Just before the final House vote, Rep. David Johnson, R-Eddington, said that he's a veteran who has concerns about more gambling.

"I think it's time we step back," he said. "This is a large attempt to increase gambling in the state of Maine."

Supporters, including Donald Simoneau, of the American Legion in Livermore Falls, said the machines will help the groups bring in needed money. For 20 years, he has lobbied the Legislature to allow gaming machines at the facilities.

He said the bill places limits and has such high costs that probably only about 20 of the 175 American Legion posts in Maine will be able to afford to get the machines. It would allow the machines at fraternal organizations, such as the Eagles and Elks, as well.

"This gives some posts and some of the groups an opportunity to survive," Simoneau said.

The bill, L.D. 1469, would require the groups to have a cash reserve of $2,000 for each machine, to put down a $5,000 refundable deposit with the Gambling Control Board and to pay an initial application fee of $1,000. Applications would be accepted by the state after Oct. 1, 2013.

The bill caps the total number of slot machines at these facilities at 250 statewide.

The bill requires 10 percent of net slot machine revenue to go to the Gambling Control Board to cover administrative costs, 8 percent to go to the state General Fund, 10 percent to the host municipality and 2 percent to gambling addiction prevention and treatment.

Gov. Paul LePage has not taken a position on the bill, said his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett.

Susan Cover -- 620-7015

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