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Editorial - Gaming issues need action

September 15, 1997

Last Tuesday Washington County Circuit Court Judge Fred Wright III ruled against 23 of the county's private clubs in a lawsuit filed over tip-jar proceeds. We believe this action will put the issue back where it belongs - before the Maryland General Assembly, where some other issues can be cleared up at the same time.

The clubs had sought Judge Wright's endorsement of their view that the "gross profits" on which payments to the Washington County's Gaming Commission are made should not include the cost of the tip jars, or the stickers required by county law.

In the law, it states that gross profits "means the total proceeds from the operation of a tip jar, less the amount of prizes or money winnings distributed." The clubs' suit argued that because the jar is paid for before the "operation of the jar" begins, the clubs should at least be able to deduct that cost before figuring up gross profits.

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Wright, who agreed to hear the suit despite gaming commission efforts to have it thrown out, nevertheless said that "the court cannot rewrite what the lawmakers wrote."

The clubs could appeal, but we'd rather see the issue go before the legislature, where the measure could be debated openly and decided by the elected representatives of the people, who also need to do a few other jobs.

The first is the elimination of the so-called "sunset" clause. Unless this is done, the authority for the gaming commission and the money it distributes to charity will expire in 1999. The delegation would then have to start all over, which would give the state an opportunity to stick its oar into the issue.

Anyone who thinks that's not a possibility should think again. In the last session, state Sen. Walter Baker, D-Cecil introduced a bill to allow the state to regulate and monitor all forms of local gambling. Some form of state regulation may come, but there's a better chance it will be less intrusive if there's a working system in place. It took a tremendous effort to get some form of tip-jar gambling regulation here to benefit local charities. Let's not let the state snatch away the prize that many worked so hard to win.

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