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Two pending bills that affect gambling activities by private organizations in Harford County had favorable hearings in Annapolis on Thursday.

House Bill 663 to allow veterans organizations in Maryland to have up to five slot machines, and House Bill 980 to authorize local nonprofit organizations to host “casino events” had hearings at 1 p.m. Thursday in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Numerous people testified in support of House Bill 663, with no opposition, according to David Price, who has advocated for this bill on his own initiative for the last five years.

Del. Dan Riley, who sponsored the veterans organization bill, also said the hearing for House Bill 980 went very well, according to Price, who is a member of the Harford County Republican Central Committee and American Legion Post 39.

Messages were left for Riley, but he did not respond in time for publication.

House Bill 980 was introduced as a delegation bill.

Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane, who was in Annapolis Thursday testifying in favor of an anti-gang bill, has not taken a position on either gambling bill.

Action had not been taken on either bill as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

In addition, House Bill 1020 to designate English as the official language of the county had a favorable hearing Wednesday in the House Health and Government Operations Committee, according to Del. Pat McDonough, the bill’s sponsor.

“I thought the hearing went very well,” McDonough said Thursday.

Action had not been taken on House Bill 1020 as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

Veterans organizations

House Bill 663 adjusts existing law to authorize all veterans organizations that have been in Maryland for at least five years, not just in certain counties, to own or operate up to five slot machines, with the stipulation that 50 percent of the proceeds go to the home post and 50 percent go to bona fide charities.

The bill requires veterans organizations to obtain a slot machine license from the sheriff, and pay an annual $50 fee for the license to the county.

The existing law allows eight counties to have slot machines in fraternal and religious organizations; it will remain unchanged and Harford County will not be added to that list.

An amendment has been added to the bill to require a certified public accountant to verify receipts every year within 30 days of the anniversary of receiving the license.

Riley, a Democrat representing southern Harford District 34, said there are other amendments in the works, including one on the specifics of how the money from the slots machines will be distributed to veterans’ charities.

George Owings III, a Democratic candidate for governor and former delegate; Gerald Delvin, a retired district court judge for Prince George’s County, former vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and former delegate; along with the Victor Fuentealba, the state judge advocate for Maryland’s VFW, testified in support the bill, according to Price.

“Those were the three big ones, but there was some others,” Price said. “They were powerful testimonies by all three.”

Even though the House bill did not receive any opposition, Price said he didn’t know if the bill would pass.

“That is too dangerous of a thing to predict,” he said. “The evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of it, but that does not mean it will get out of committee because some people on the committee just don’t want it.”

A Senate version of the same bill, SB4, has been cross-filed, and Sen. Barry Glassman is one of the co-sponsors. It was heard before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Feb. 2.

Casino events

The Harford delegation is sponsoring House Bill 980, which would allow nonprofit organizations to obtain a permit from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office and pay a fee to host casino events where attendees can place up to $10 bets on card games, dice games, roulette or video recorded horse races.

Only four casino events may be held in a calendar year between the hours of 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. in a location that is owned, leased or occupied by the holder of the permit. A separate permit is required for each event and the maximum single bet is $10. Alcohol may also be served at these events, as long as a license is issued by the Harford County Liquor Control Board.

The bill outlines nonprofit organizations eligible for the casino events, and states the events must be conducted by members of the organization holding the permit, and not by outside workers or paid professional casino operators.

All proceeds from the casino event, once costs incurred to host the event are deducted, must be used for the purposes of the organization, and a full account of the proceeds and expenses of the event must be submitted to the sheriff no later than 30 days after the event.

English bill

McDonough’s bill, which has also gained the support of Harford’s remaining seven delegates, requires Harford County government and most agencies to conduct meetings and publish official documents in English, with eight exceptions.

The bill does not “infringe on the rights of citizens to exercise the use of a language of their choice for private conduct,” according to the bill.

McDonough, a Republican representing western Harford County and eastern Baltimore CountyDistrict 7, has proposed the same legislation for Baltimore County, where he lives.

McDonough said the bill will still have a difficult time getting out of committee, as all English-only bills do.

“It will either be given local courtesy or not or trapped by philosophical liberal bias,” McDonough said.

The only opposition the bill received on Wednesday was from the Central American Solidarity Association, or CASA, in Montgomery County.

McDonough said CASA testifies against all bills it believes will negatively affect illegal immigrants.

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