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Gambling bill aims to repeal 'sunset' provision

January 21, 1998

Gambling bill aims to repeal 'sunset' provision

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County's delegation in the Maryland General Assembly agreed Wednesday to sponsor legislation that would remove the 1999 expiration date from the county's tip jar gambling bill.

But the debate over local gaming legislation will continue, and likely focus on the operations of the county Gaming Commission, which distributes tip jar proceeds to charities, nonprofit organizations and fire and rescue companies. A variety of issues could be addressed in a second piece of legislation.

Delegation members said they supported the two-pronged approach to amending the tip jar law because it is the best way to ensure passage of the most important proposed amendment, removal of the expiration date, also known as the "sunset" clause.

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"Just so the number one issue does that happen to fail because of changes made in the other bill. That's just a fear of mine," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

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 has given out more than $3.2 million since the county began regulating tip jars in July 1995. More than $63 million was gambled last year in tip jars at fraternal clubs and taverns in the county.

But Donoghue said combing the sunset and additional amendments in the same bill may create problems, especially if there are any key lawmakers who try to block any gambling legislation.

"If I can argue that this is not a gambling bill, but just yanking a date out of an existing bill, then we have a better chance of passage," he said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, supported the plan and reiterated his belief that a single tip jar bill could fall victim to becoming a "Christmas tree" from which amendments allowing gambling elsewhere in the state could hang.

"If we keep the sunset plain and simple, it would be less likely to include slot machines ... which would be an automatic veto," Munson said.

The delegation's approval of the lifting the sunset now focuses the debate over the operation of the Gaming Commission. Munson and Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said they have concerns about the size of the commission's budget, which is just under $175,000 this year.

"That's a heck of a lot of money," Poole said.

Munson said he also wants to see if the commission's requirements on what organizations and people are eligible to receive tip jar proceeds can be broadened. The commission's current practice of limiting donations only to those organizations given tax-deductible status from the Internal Revenue Service is too restrictive, he said.

"I think that's something this delegation needs to look into," he said.

The delegation will also address a group of proposed amendments from the Gaming Commission and County Commissioners. One of the biggest proposed changes would require fraternal clubs make a flat 15 percent cash contribution from their gross tip jar profits to the commission.

Clubs now 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.

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