By Lauren Fulbright
State Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Democrat who represents District 8 that includes the northeastern area of Baltimore County, and state Sen. Barry Glassman, a Republican from Harford County, co-sponsored the measure to help struggling veterans organizations generate more revenue.
The bill would require posts to pay a $50 fee per slot machine to their county and donate half of the proceeds from the machine to charity.
"It's hard for us every month," said Chuck Catterton, commander of Dewey Lowman Post 109 of the American Legion. "We're really struggling to make ends meet and that's a fact."
He said his post, which was chartered in 1934 according to the post website and draws most of its approximately 1,700 members from Catonsville and Arbutus, is not in danger of closing its doors.
But, he said, it does face a large mortgage payment every month for its headquarters at 1610 Old Sulphur Spring Road, which opened in 1993.
"The revenue from the slots would really help us out," he said.
Legislative analysts estimate that the bill would allow 160 veterans' groups statewide to add up to 800 slot machines. The new slots could generate up to $21 million in annual revenue for the groups, according to a fiscal note from a similar bill filed last session.
An identical bill died last session in the House Ways and Means Committee on a 15-7 vote.
Del. James Malone, who represents Catonsville and Arbutus as well as part of Howard County, said there is currently a similar bill in the House of Delegates that would allow veterans' groups to operate slots in Howard County.
He said he has not made up his mind whether he would support such legislation.
Del. Steve DeBoy of District 12A and state Sen. Ed Kasemeyer of District 10 did not return calls for comment on the proposed legislation.
State Sen. Delores Kelley and Dels. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, Adrienne Jones and Emmett Burns of District 10 did not return calls for comment on the proposed legislation.
Catterton said the additional money would help fund current services and programs and could even help the post expand its offerings.
Scholarships for students, donations for Scout troops, monthly visits to a local veterans' hospital and support for the Wounded Warrior Project programs are some of the services the post provides, he said.
"You can always use money to help other people," said Ronald Alston Sr., commander of the Jackson & Johnson Memorial Post 263 of the American Legion at 151 Winters Lane in Catonsville.
He said his post, which was chartered in 1952 and now has a membership of more than 200 according to its website, is doing OK financially.
But, Alston said, the additional revenue from making slot machines available would help posts that are struggling and also benefit the community and veterans.
Alston said he thinks the slot machines would be popular with his post's members.
Many travel to Delaware and West Virginia to gamble and play slots, he said.
In fact, Kenneth Shockey, third vice-commander at August J. Raveio Post 195 of the American Legion, said he had just finished playing the slots in Delaware as he talked about the possible benefits of the Senate bill for veterans' groups.
"I think we should have them," he said. "This would help us out a lot because people like to gamble."
Bill Proctor, commander of Post 195, said revenue from the machines could help the Lansdowne post continue to provide support at veterans' hospitals, fund Wounded Warrior Project programs and offer children's and youth programming.
"We hope that it will pass in the legislature and give us the same advantages that they have on the Eastern Shore," said Proctor, referring to slots allowed at nonprofits like the VFW in eight counties on the Eastern Shore.
Proctor pointed out that the machines at the post at 2603 Virginia Ave. would only be available to members, their guests and visitors from other American Legion posts.
He said his post has managed to keep its programs afloat so far, but it has become increasingly difficult in the current economy.
"By and large, it would benefit the VFW and the larger posts, so I'd be in favor of it," said James Barlow, commander of the Spirit of America Post 6458, of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that meets at Bloomsbury Community Center, at 106 Bloomsbury Ave. in Catonsville.
He said his post, which was chartered in 1991 and has 101 members, isn't large enough to accommodate the machines.
But, Barlow said, the additional funding could be used to increase veterans' benefits and could help pass national legislation to benefit veterans.
David Saleh Rauf of the Capital News Service contributed to this report.