Gambling legislation aired

March 13, 1998


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Changes to Washington County's tip jar gambling law would enhance a system that has ensured the donation of millions of dollars in gaming proceeds to charity, local officials told a Maryland General Assembly committee Thursday.

"We would like to see this continue because this has been a win-win," County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook told the House Judiciary Committee.

Snook and other officials spoke in favor of two pieces of legislation that would amend the county's three-year-old gaming law that regulates the distribution of tip jar proceeds.


"This keeps it the way we are doing it, but we are making a couple changes," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, chairman of the county's legislative delegation.

One bill, which county officials consider the most important, would remove the current law's expiration date of July 1, 1999.

"We're happy in Washington County with what we have. We sort of made ourselves a role model for the state in terms of accountability," Donoghue told the committee.

The second bill would make several changes, but its most significant proposal would change the way fraternal and social clubs designate their tip jar profits to charity.

Under the current law, clubs must donate 15 percent of their gross gaming proceeds. Half the donations are turned over to the county Gaming Commission, which distributes the money to charities, fire and rescue companies and other nonprofit organizations in the county. The clubs distribute the other half through direct cash contributions and in-kind services.

The commission estimates it will distribute $1.1 million in tip jar proceeds for the budget year that ends this June 30.

The current law would increase club giving to 20 percent on July 1, with the same 50-50 split in charitable distributions between the clubs and Gaming Commission.

The new legislation would keep contributions at their present 15 percent after July 1, but funnel all donations through the Gaming Commission in cash. Officials said that would eliminate the time and money it takes to determine the validity of in-kind donations.

"It has become a nightmare, bookkeeping-wise, so we thought this would be a very simple solution," Donoghue said.

A flat 15 percent contribution to the Gaming Commission would increase the agency's charitable distributions next year to an estimated $2.45 million next year.

Committee members made only a few comments about the legislation.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert, suggested the seemingly simple sunset amendment could be a target for amendment by others.

County lawmakers have raised the possibility that gaming legislation could be torpedoed if it were greatly amended to include broader gambling opportunities in other parts of the state.

"I think anything could happen this year," Donoghue said.

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