Cumberland Times-News

April 8, 2013

Bill allows casinos to hire some convicted of crimes

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — A bill that allows video lottery establishments to hire some individuals with criminal records has passed both houses of the General Assembly and is awaiting Gov. Martin O’Malley’s signature. Senate Bill 282 was passed as an emergency measure, which means it becomes law as soon as the governor signs the bill.

Lottery officials recommended the bill be passed as an emergency measure because the agency is in the process of licensing Rocky Gap casino applicants. It ... made sense to make these new standards apply to everyone, said Erica Palmisano, communications business manager for the State Lottery & Gaming Control Agency.

“... this bill does not take the agency’s authority to deny a license or force the agency hand; it simply gives the agency’s licensing folks a little more flexibility when making a decision,” Palmisano said.

The ban on someone convicted of certain crimes had been permanent under existing law.

“An applicant must be disqualified for a license if the applicant has had a conviction or is on active parole or probation for any crime involving moral turpitude or gambling within the prior seven years,” a fiscal and policy note by the Department of Legislative Services states.

Rocky Gap’s owners provided a statement on the bill.

"We have about 200 existing employees at Rocky Gap and an additional 250 new employees coming on board, most of which will need to be licensed in the next 60 days. This legislation will speed up the licensing process and we don't anticipate any impact on the quality of the candidates," said Scott Just, general manager, Rocky Gap Casino Resort. Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort is owned by Evitts Resort, LLC, a subsidiary of Lakes Entertainment Inc. The resort is located within Rocky Gap State Park.

There is no simple list of crimes of moral turpitude in Maryland. However, a 1996 Attorney General’s opinion described a crime of moral turpitude one “for which fraudulent intent is a requisite element of proof.” Black’s Law Dictionary defines moral turpitude as “conduct that is contrary to justice, honesty or morality” and includes fraud and breach of trust as examples, according to the fiscal and policy note.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Verna M. Jones-Rodwell, was requested by Baltimore City. City officials did approach the lottery agency for recommendations before the bill was introduced, but the agency did not testify. As a state agency, the LGCA generally does not take a position on legislation and tries to stay as neutral as possible, Palmisano said.

The bill passed the state Senate unanimously and passed in the House of Delegates by a 90-46 vote. Delegate LeRoy Myers voted for the bill; Delegates Wendell Beitzel and Kevin Kelly voted against the bill.

A bill specifically designed to help the Rocky Gap casino also passed through the legislature. The bill, if signed into law by O’Malley, would allow extended hours for sales of alcoholic beverages at Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort. Provisions allowing for other casinos to have extended hours already exist.

The bill would create two new licenses for sales in Allegany County, a video lottery facility license and a concessionaire license.

The annual license fee would be $15,000 for the video lottery license and $5,000 for the concession license. That would add $20,000 a year to county coffers, according to a legislative and policy note prepared by the state Department of Legislative Services.

The license would be administered by the county liquor board.

“Food or alcoholic beverages offered by a video lottery operation licensee may be offered only at prices that are determined by the county alcoholic beverages licensing authority to be commensurate with the price of similar types of food and alcoholic beverages at restaurants in the county in which the VLT facility is located,” according to the policy note.

The holder of a video lottery license must also take steps to ensure someone under the influence doesn’t play the slots.

“A video lottery operation licensee must ensure that intoxicated individuals are not allowed to play VLTs and are not allowed in areas of the VLT facility where VLTs are located,” according to the policy note.

The gaming operation will start with 550 slot machines and 10 table games.

The casino should open by June, with new conference space available in the fall, Evitts Resort officials have said.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.