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Tip jars boom in 1997

November 29, 1997

Tip jars boom in 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

Tip jar gambling increased by more than $6 million in the second year the popular games of chance were regulated in Washington County.

A whopping $61.3 million was spent in the year ending in June 1997, according to Washington County Gaming Commission records. That was up from nearly $55 million the year before.

That means $651 was gambled for every person over age 19 in the county.

Keep in mind that's not all cash. Often, gamblers will use their smaller winnings to buy more tickets, hoping to get a chance at a larger pot.

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After the winners were paid, $10.2 million was left over for expenses and charity, about $500,000 more than the year before.

"We are getting a better handle on what's going on gambling-wise," said Gaming Commission Member Lou Thomas.

Most tip jars are played at clubs like the American Legions, Elks and Eagles.

However, tip jar gambling appeared to slack off at several popular clubs like the Williamsport Red Men, the Funkstown American Legion and the Wiliamsport American Legion.

The nine clubs that sold the most tip jars reported gross profits of $400,000 less than the previous year.

Frank Foight III, president of the Washington County Club Association, had no explanation for the drop.

However, he said the regulation has hurt the clubs' ability to make charitable donations.

Under the law, clubs must give 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 July 1, 1997, and rise to 20 percent July 1, 1998.

Half of those mandatory donations from clubs must be made through the gaming commission, which disburses money to charities and fire and rescue companies.

One possibility for the drop is that regulation has opened up tip jar selling to more outlets than ever, said Thomas, who owns Yellow House tavern near Boonsboro.

Before the 1995 regulation, clubs had a virtual monopoly on the game.

The only businesses that could legally run tip jars had to donate profits to the Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association. The association set up a foundation that gave money to charity.

It took time for bars and liquor stores to become familiar with the law, which allows them to sell tip jars as long as they give half the profits to the gaming commission, Thomas said.

The second year of tip jar regulation also saw an increase in temporary tip jar licenses.

The law, initially vague on temporary licenses, now spells out that nonprofits can get one-day licenses and keep all the profits, said Gaming Commission Director Kathy Sterling.

"These are strictly for fund-raising," she said.

In one year, organizations like softball leagues, charities and band boosters got to keep $218,000 in tip jar profits, records show.

"The small groups are able to be more self-supporting," Thomas said.

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