Proceeds are expected to grow as the 1996 tip jar law is phased in. Under the law, the clubs must contribute 10 percent of their gross profits from tip jars - the amount after payouts but before expenses - to charity. The amount will increase to 15 percent on July 1, and to 20 percent on July 1, 1998.
Half of the mandatory donations from clubs must be turned over to the gaming commission. The clubs can disburse the other half of the charity money as they see fit. Much of the clubs' mandatory charitable giving - up to 5 percent of gross tip jar profits - can be in the form of in-kind donations, such as free use of their facilities to community groups.
Taverns can keep $45, or 50 percent of the gross profits, from each tip jar packet, whichever is less. The rest goes to the gaming commission.
The gaming commission sends 40 percent of the proceeds it receives to the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association. The other 60 percent goes to charities of its choosing.
County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers asked if more of the gaming commission's funds above the 40 percent earmarked for fire companies could be directed to a new fire training center.
Directors of local charities said the contributions they received last year from the gaming commission have resulted in better services for county residents. The commission funded 46 organizations from among 84 applications last year.
Community Free Clinic Executive Director Shelby Higgins said the $15,000 the clinic received has had a dramatic effect on patient care. The money helped the clinic upgrade a part-time nurse to full time and buy more medications and other supplies.
"It not only alleviates some of the crush here, it also really dramatically improves the quality of people's lives," she said.
Maggie Brill, the executive director of Girls Inc., said the roughly $15,000 the group received last year was a needed shot in the arm at a time when other funding sources have grown uncertain.
"Human services agencies are biting their nails waiting for cuts. We've seen our funds dwindle and our human services load increase," she said.
The money helped pay for a new roof for the Girls Inc. building, four new furnaces and a fax machine, she said. Brill said she hopes to get additional funding this year to replace peeling ceilings and make other improvements.
Jim Mobley, executive director of Food Resources Inc., also praised the program, which helped pay for two new computers, software, food and other supplies last year. Mobley said the computers' inventory control programs have eliminated manual work and resulted in quicker and more accurate accounting.