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Delegation to deal with tip jars again

January 10, 1998

Delegation to deal with tip jars again

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

Tip jar gambling will once again be one of the biggest local issues facing Washington County's legislative delegation during the upcoming General Assembly.

Key among the proposed amendments to the county law is the removal of the law's expiration date, also known as the "sunset" provision. If the sunset is not removed or extended, the law will lose its effect on July 1, 1999.

That would mean an end to the county Gaming Commission, which distributed $1.7 million to local charities last year out of proceeds raised from $63.1 million in tip jar proceeds raised at fraternal clubs and bars.

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Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, originally expressed concerns last year over removing the sunset provision, saying it might be best to extend the expiration date, which would force the legislature to revisit the tip jar issue again and continue its oversight of county gaming.

But supporters of removing the sunset said doing so would not remove the General Assembly's oversight because the legislature can study and amend the tip jar law whenever it chooses.

"As a delegation, as legislature, we can address any issues at any time. We don't need a magic date to force us to address it," said Del. John P. Donoghue, a Hagerstown Democrat who chairs the county delegation.

Like many people, Donoghue said he considers the removing the sunset provision to be the highest priority among the tip jar amendments proposed by the Gaming Commission.

"Without that, the bill's dead and we don't have to worry about anything else," he said.

Munson has recently said he is willing to drop the sunset clause altogether.

"I'm willing to let that go ... I've become convinced at this point that it has served its purpose," he said.

There will likely be other changes made to the law. The Gaming Commission also is asking that fraternal clubs make a flat 15 percent cash contribution from their gross tip jar profits to the commission.

Currently clubs are allowed to give up to 5 percent of their tip jar gross in the form of in-kind services, for a total 15 percent contribution. The current law calls for clubs to give 20 percent starting this July 1, with the 5 percent in-kind contribution remaining.

The change, proposed by a club representative on the Gaming Commission, is intended to help reduce paperwork and commission expenses, supporters said.

Some delegation members said they would like to examine more closely the commission's expenses, possibly eying a cap on its operations. The commission's operating budget for this year is just under $175,000.

"That's an area I think we ought to investigate," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

Munson said removing the in-kind expenses may help with the commission's "little bureaucracy," but he said if they stay he would like to see the in-kind definition be expanded. For example, he said Christmas baskets given to the needy were rejected by the commission as a charity.

"There's something wrong with that," he said.

Still, Munson predicted any changes to the tip jar law would amount to nothing more than "housecleaning" measures.

"I don't think it's going to change the law much," he said.

Donoghue warned that too many amendments could muddle the legislation.

"My wish is to keep it as simple as possible, so we don't complicate it and run the risk of non-passage," Donoghue said.

This would be the fourth straight year the county delegation has attempted to pass some type of tip jar law, getting passage of two key pieces of legislation in 1995 and 1996. Last year's bill, which had some of the same amendments being proposed this year, stalled in a House of Delegates committee as part of a statewide roadblock on many gaming laws.

Lawmakers said there is still a chance for similar problems this year.

"I would say at this point we are moving toward something that will go in (the legislature). How far it goes only time will tell," said Del. Robert. A. McKee, R-Washington.

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