Milford VFW Fights Slot Machine Removal

Photo taken by Joseph Fulgham.
Photo taken by Joseph Fulgham.

By Terry Rogers

Members of the Milford Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #6483 attended a protest on Thursday, January 10, 2013 in front of Legislative Hall in Dover. This protest, which included members of many non-profit organizations throughout the state, including the American Legion, VFW, Elks and Moose who received letters in October and November 2012 ordering them to discontinue the use of slot machines in their establishment.

According to Gerald Thompson, Commander of the Milford VFW, the lodge was handed a letter during the Veteran’s Day ceremony stating that the club was in violation of Rule 40 of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board regulations. The letter, which Commander Thompson felt had unnecessary, threatening language such as “You are in legal jeopardy” was issued on letterhead from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“We have lost at least $1,200 in the past month,” Thompson said. “We average about $200 to $300 per week from the slot machines. Without this money, we will not be able to provide the services we have provided over the years, including educational funding, providing electrical or other energy payments to those who are unable to afford them, gifts at Christmas time, etc.” Thompson also explained that the many non-profit organizations that rely on income from the slot machines donated over $5.5 million to worthy causes over the past year, and those donations will end if the legislators do not correct the problem.

Lewis D. Schiliro, the Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security, issued a statement in November 2012 regarding the matter.

“This letter, which was sent to several organizations, was essentially an outgrowth of several citizen complaints we had received regarding the proliferation of slot machines in various venues throughout the state. In response to those complaints and subsequent on-site visits by law enforcement, the Attorney General’s Office was consulted and advised that under the current law most of the machines were clearly illegal under Delaware law. Rather than take immediate enforcement action, we decided to send a letter to known venues advising recipients of the potential issue regarding the use of these gambling devices.”

According to Thompson, the non-profit organizations were informed when the gambling law was put into effect in 1984, the organizations were included in the law. The slot machines at the non-profit locations ran for more than 14 years without any issues.

“From what we understand, the legislators and the Governor were completely unaware that the letter was sent out,” Thompson explained. “There is clearly a lack of communication between governmental agencies.”

Last week, Schiliro issued another statement regarding the issue.

“It is now my understanding that this topic will be the subject of discussion before the current session of the General Assembly. Based on this, in my view it would be inappropriate to comment further beyond the statement previously made.”

Legislators present at the protest on Thursday said that there would be discussion about the law during this session, but made no indication what changes would be made. Thompson says that the “scuttlebutt” is that even if the non-profit organizations are permitted to use the machines again, there will be additional taxes imposed on the income from them, and he finds that unacceptable.

“We’ve heard that the taxes on that income may be as high as 65 percent,” Thompson said. “The state now seems to be grasping at any way to raise revenue, even taking money out of the hands of their most needy citizens.”