Gambling board delays ruling

Posted Nov. 04, 2009, at 11:37 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the state’s Gambling Control Board debated at length Wednesday about Hollywood Slots’ request to add a new type of slot machine, but then decided to delay the decision pending more information.

Bob Welch, executive director of the board, brought the request to bring “hosted” slot machines to the Bangor racino. The machines, Welch explained, are still automated, but instead of patrons placing money into the slots, a host employed by the racino does that for them.

The machine appears to be something of a bridge between traditional slot machines and table games such as poker and blackjack, which many would like to see eventually added at Hollywood Slots.

Some members of the Gambling Control Board said the definition of slot machine under state law is quite broad and this new machine technically fits that definition.

“It seems to me that nowhere in the statute does it demand the player has to put money in the machine,” board Chairman George McHale said. “I don’t see any grounds to deny the request.”

Others disagreed.

“To me it’s a card game,” board member Peter Danton said.

Danton pointed out that the gaming industry changes all the time but he said he’d feel better if the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee made a ruling.

Board member Richard Arnold expressed concern that the hosted machines can accommodate up to five players at a time, although Welch stressed the players would be playing against the computer, not one another.

“I agree [with Danton] that we need to have this clarified,” Arnold said.

Cushing Samp, another board member, said it’s the Gambling Control Board’s responsibility to make these types of decisions, not pass them off to the Legislature.

“I don’t want to go back to the Legislature and say we don’t know how to do our job. It sets a bad precedent,” she said.

If the machines were approved, Welch said Hollywood Slots likely would add a couple on a trial basis. The facility is not expected to change the total number of machines, which now sits at 1,000.

There has been a long-running discussion since Hollywood Slots opened in Bangor in 2005 about whether the facility would add traditional table games at some point. To do so would require a legislative act and Gov. John Baldacci has indicated in the past that he would not sign any bill that expands gambling.

In the meantime, Hollywood Slots often has brought in the latest in slot machines, and Welch said that’s all the hosted machines are, although he admitted they do have the feel of a table game.

After considerable debate, the board agreed to revisit the matter at its December meeting after Welch and Bill Stokes of the Attorney General’s Office have gathered more information.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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