Underground Video Gambling: Still in Violation of the Law, and Still Thriving

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    : In January 2006 The Abell Foundation released a study chronicling an illegal, multi-million dollar slot machine industry in Baltimore City and County, with income that goes largely unreported to tax collectors. The study, “Underground Video Gambling Industry Costing Maryland More than $15 million Annually in Uncollected Taxes,” reported there were nearly 3,500 video gambling devices in 2005 in bars and other businesses where gamblers are awarded their winnings by bartenders and clerks, instead of from slots in the machine. Most of the machines are owned by vending companies that split the proceeds with bar owners. One year later the industry is still thriving, with the city and county governments continuing to license the machines under the pretext that they are for “amusement only.” However, the Maryland Comptroller’s office responded to the 2006 study by attempting to collect one of the taxes that has gone underpaid by vending machine owners. For the first time, the comptroller’s compliance division is coordinating with the city office that registers the machines to collect the Admissions and Amusement tax, a levy of 10 percent of income from each machine. By cross-checking the city’s list of vending machine owners with state tax records, the comptroller’s office was able to locate more than a hundred machine owners who had not been paying the tax. The new effort goes to the heart of the problems cited in the Abell study, which calculated that the industry brings in between $91 million and $181 million a year, much of which ($63 million to $153 million) goes unreported to tax collectors. The study also prompted two unsuccessful bills in the Maryland General Assembly’s 2006 session. They would have clarified the illegality of the machines and required the Maryland Comptroller’s office to report its efforts to get rid of the devices and to give the legislature an accounting of audits and tax liens against vending companies. One of the bills was introduced by Montgomery County Delegate Peter Franchot, who used the report as a platform early in his campaign for the Maryland Comptroller’s office. He won the election and took office in January 2007. In a statement for this report he said he will work to rid the state of video gambling devices. The Baltimore City Council also responded to the Abell study, though hardly in a civic-minded way. In November 2005 the council introduced legislation that would increase the number of so-called “amusement devices.” The legislation was in direct response to the discovery by the Abell researcher that hundreds of Baltimore businesses had more machines than city zoning law allowed. The city council’s response was to accommodate the video gambling industry (operated in part by expired corporations, convicted felons and tax evaders) instead of trying to rid the city of the illegal activities. The bill was heard in a committee chaired by a city councilman who, with his family, owns a bar with four gambling machines. The council member, Edward L. Reisinger, abstained from voting on the bill, but neglected to invite city vice detectives to testify about their experience observing gambling payouts and seizures of thousands of dollars inside the machines and in tavern drawers and safes. Neither did he respond to the city law department’s warning that allowing more of the machines could lead to the proliferation of illegal gambling. His committee voted in favor of the bill, sending it to the full council, where it received preliminary approval. In January, however, it was sent back to committee, where its fate was uncertain as of this writing. The only opponent to the bill on Reisinger’s Land Use and Transportation committee was council member Mary Pat Clarke. In a statement for this report Clarke said, “We oppose slots, then we encourage illegal gambling which lacks oversight and accountability. Where’s the consistency? Where’s the help for addicted gamblers and their loved ones? What’s the point and who’s this for? Permitting proliferation is poor city policy.” In the meantime, the city’s attempt to crack down on vending machine owners violating the zoning law has met only partial success. Although many “amusement device” owners followed city orders to remove machines in excess of zoning code’s limits, others have not. Fifty-two owners of “amusement devices” have kept the machines and appealed to the city’s Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals in an attempt to maintain their excess devices.9 While the zoning appeals sit unheard, the office that licenses the machines has been reluctant to fine the owners for violating the law (or even charge them the city’s usual registration fees). The result is that the city now has hundreds of machines that are not even licensed. However, in December 2006 a city official said that the city plans to remedy this problem in 2007 by sending a list of violators to the city’s zoning office for legal action.
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    : http://www.abell.org/pubsitems/ec-gambling_update_1.23.07...

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  • type

    : report
  • publisher

    : Abell Foundation
  • original language

    : English
  • Article entered in GambLIB database on sept. 9. 2009, 12:09
  • Item added by staff