CITY COUNCILMAN ROBERT Curran has turned up the heat on so-called internet sweepstakes parlors—which many consider thinly veiled casinos—asking the city’s top lawyer and finance director to explain their tax and legal status.
“Are sweepstakes devices paying the simulated slots excise tax? What rate do the sweepstakes devices pay for their amusement license?” the 3rd District councilman asked in a June 14 letter addressed to City Solicitor George Nilson and Finance Director Harry E. Black. Curran continued: “Are sweepstakes devices legal under Maryland law?”
The state legislature already passed a law that appears to ban the parlors that have cropped up (and, in some cases, been shut down) in Baltimore and other places over the past year (“Sweepstakes Take,” Mobtown Beat, May 9).
The legislature left the determination of what a “slot machine” is to State Lottery Commissioner Stephen L. Martino, and appeared to ban so-called “sweepstakes” parlors—which look like video lottery or slots parlors, but claim exemption under gambling laws because the outcome of each bet is supposedly predetermined before the player begins. The ban takes effect Jan. 1, 2013. Martino, who made a point last month of saying he did not ask for this chore, did not respond to CP’s request for an update. Nilson and Black had not returned call by press time either.
Curran pressed the issue after a possible new parlor appeared on the city’s zoning docket. On May 29, the Baltimore City Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals gave conditional-use approval to an “arcade” at 4300 Belair Road for “Hidden Treasure Sweepstakes, LLC.”
“Now they’re coming to my district, so I’m stepping up,” Curran says. “Why are we not pursuing the simulated slots excise tax on these, like the machines on the corner bar? They pay upwards of $2,000 per machine. I want to know why [the] Department of Finance is not out there shutting these guys down. The city has investigators that go out and look for folks that are beating us—skirting the container tax and things like that.”
Hidden Treasures Sweepstakes was registered in November to Roscoe Holmes, according to state tax records. Attorney Joseph Woolman, who represented the company at the zoning board, said he’d pass a reporter’s phone number to his client but could not speak for him.