Governor refuses to halt enforcement of gambling laws for vets

Markell says he will not tell police to ignore the law
American Legion Post 28 in Oak Orchard is one of many veterans' organizations in the state that was threatened by police for allowing its members to play slot machines. BY KARA NUZBACK
November 23, 2012

Gov. Jack Markell refuses to impede enforcement of gambling laws, even when it comes to Delaware's veterans’ associations.

Shortly after Veterans Day, some local veterans’ organizations, American Legions, AmVets posts and Veterans of Foreign Wars, received a letter from Delaware State Police Col. Robert Coupe, advising them to remove gambling devices from their facilities or face the consequences of breaking the law.

Slot machines are a primary source of income and a popular source of entertainment at veterans’ organizations throughout the state.

Seven Sussex County Republicans, along with six Republicans from Kent and New Castle counties, sent a Nov. 16 letter to Markell, saying the organizations were unaware they were violating the law.

House Republicans asked Markell to hold off on enforcing gambling laws for fraternal organizations until the General Assembly convenes Tuesday, Jan. 8.

The representatives, including newly elected representatives Steve Smyk, R-Milton, and Ron Gray, R-Selbyville, say the organizations have come to depend on profits from the onsite slot machines as part of their revenue.

“We fear that removing this vital aspect of their operations will not only force the elimination of jobs, it will also significantly impact the many charitable works these organizations undertake and may event imperil their continued existence,” the letter states.

“The loss of such groups – especially downstate – would create an irreparable hole in the fabric of the communities they serve,” legislators wrote.

Other representatives who signed the letter include Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford; Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown; Rep. Dave Wilson, R-Lincoln; and Rep. Dan Short, R-Seaford.

In a Nov. 20 response, Markell denied the request, saying it is the Attorney General’s decision whether to prosecute the organizations.  “For my part, it is not appropriate for me to direct them or the Delaware State Police to ignore the law,” Markell wrote.

In the letter, Markell said the slot machines pay out thousands of dollars on a daily basis.  “While not yet verified, there have been reports of upward of $30,000 per month being generated at certain locations by these enterprises,” he wrote.

“There is no question such activity is in violation of Delaware law, and it may violate federal law, as well as local ordinances (particularly Sussex County),” Markell wrote.

The governor said he senses many of the organizations have already ceased using the slot machines, so further enforcement is unlikely.

Markell said when the General Assembly convenes, he is willing to work with legislators on a solution that includes oversight and restrictions of gambling at the organizations.

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