Defunct Legion post contradicts clubs' position

January 14, 1998


Staff Writer

The former commander of American Legion Charles Harden Post 74 in Hagerstown said Wednesday that low membership, not the tip jar gambling law, drove the post out of business in 1996.

On Tuesday, the president of the Washington County Club Association used the defunct Post 74 as an example of the financial hardship that the July 1995 gambling law has imposed on veterans organizations and other private clubs.

Frank Foight III said Wednesday he was told by a county American Legion official that it was the tip jar law that put the final nail in the coffin for the small post.


But James Chandler, the former commander of Post 74, said the club never sold tip jars.

"I think it's very wrong of them to make up a lie like that to tell," Chandler said.

The club had only 16 members, the minimum needed to maintain a charter, in 1995. Members continued to meet at each other's homes until 1996, when the club folded because few were interested in being active, Chandler said.

Gaming Commission Director Kathy Sterling confirmed that Post 74 never applied for or received a license to sell tip jars.

Foight said he never spoke to anyone from Post 74 and it's possible he was misinformed.

"All I can do is pass on the attitude that I face when I go into the (club association) meetings," said Foight of Charles Town, W.Va., who is a member of the Sharpsburg American Legion.

Foight and other club officials are lobbying state lawmakers to kill the county's 2-year-old tip jar law. State lawmakers said this week they haven't been swayed by the appeals of club officials.

As a result of the tip jar law, the Washington County Gaming Commission has funneled $2.3 million to charity since July 1995. Next week, another $953,240 is set to be distributed to local charities.

Meanwhile, another veterans' club threatened to close its doors this year, blaming the tip jar law for its troubles.

"We're working for the Gaming Commission. We're no longer working for the legion," said the Rev. Richard Hembrock, commander of the American Legion Antietam Post 236 in Sharpsburg.

When the legion purchased its banquet hall on Md. 34 in November 1991, it was counting on tip jar profits to help pay the mortgage, Hembrock said.

The Sharpsburg Legion, however, was financially strapped before the Gaming Commission began collecting tip jar money from clubs.

It lost nearly $160,000 - more than $1,000 every week - from 1991 to 1993, club members said in 1995 interviews.

In the first year that clubs were required to give tip jar profits to the Gaming Commission, the Sharpsburg Legion gave $7,713 to the gaming fund and at least that much to charities of their choice, commission records show.

The same year, the club made $141,954 from tip jar gambling.

The legion is losing $1,000 a week, even after refinancing its $300,000 mortgage, Hembrock said.

The law has boosted the percentage clubs are required to give to charity. In July, it went from 10 percent to 15 percent. This July, it is scheduled to go to 20 percent.

Bars are required to give half of their tip jar profits to the Gaming Commission.

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