The latest audit report from Annapolis on the Baltimore Liquor Board, released today, concludes that while some improvements have been made since a harsh 2013 audit, “many of the conditions noted in our previous audit still exist.”
The agency – rocked by leadership upheavals, including having four different chairmen over the last three years – still lacks the comprehensive policies and procedures needed “to ensure efficiency and effectiveness,” according to the 49-page report submitted to the Maryland General Assembly by legislative auditor Thomas J. Barnickel III.
For community leaders and their advocates who have pointed to the devastating findings of the 2013 audit as they push for reform at the agency, officially called the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, there will be ample fodder in the latest update.
One example: “In a number of instances, BLLC renewed licenses without ensuring appropriate fees were paid,” the audit notes. “For example, BLLC failed to collect fees from the casino and related concessionaires totaling $76,000 for the 2014 and 2015 license years.”
Liquor Board Chairman Albert J. Matricciani, Jr., in a written response, disagreed with some of the findings and faulted the auditors for what he said was a failure to acknowledge that the agency was undergoing “unprecedented changes.”
“Although the agency was not perfect in addressing each finding identified by the OLA, I believe the agency has made significant strides in becoming an agency that is more accountable, transparent and effective,” Matricciani wrote.
In its response, the Board addressed the multiple problems with its handling of the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino license that resulted in the $76,000 undercharge.
The agency conceded that the $12,000 fee it charged the Casino was not correct, but it blamed the problem on the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, saying that MOIT’s software was not able to create the new license type required – a $15,000 Video Lottery Facility License.
“As such the BLLC was forced to issue the Casino a $12,000 Arena License in August of 2014,” the Board wrote. The MOIT problems continued for a second year, resulting in the Casino again being charged the incorrect fee.
Since then, the BLLC “took action” and “created its own template,” invoicing the Casino for back fees owed in January and receiving them in April.
Another lapse that required back-billing this spring involved “Concessionaires,” the establishments within the Casino that serve liquor. Agency officials said they didn’t know these third-party vendors were supposed to be charged a license fee individually until it was pointed out by the auditors in September.
Still uncertain, the agency consulted with the Attorney General’s office and then, “with that clear legal authority in hand,” went ahead and back-billed charged the Casino for the fees owed.
They also caught up with other basic licensing requirements that had apparently gone unfulfilled.
The concessionaires, according to the Board’s response, “filed applications, background checks were conducted, and financial information was reviewed to ensure that the BWL-VLC licenses issued to the applicants for the 2016-2017 license year complied with State law.”