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Tip jar bills win final OK

April 12, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland General Assembly gave final approval Saturday to two pieces of legislation that will significantly change tip jar gaming regulations in Washington County.

One bill ensures that the tip jar regulations will not go out of effect next year, as the current law would allow. A second piece of legislation would increase tip jar proceeds distributed to charity through the Washington County Gaming Commission by an estimated $1.35 million.

Local lawmakers said they were pleased after the Senate approved the measures.

"It means more accountability. It means more support for fire and rescue (companies), and the nonprofits. And it means we still have a model for the rest of the state to follow, if it chooses to do so," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Currently fraternal, civic and veterans clubs in the county are required to donate 15 percent of their gross gaming proceeds to charity. But only half of the giving has to be made through the commission; the rest can be made directly to nonprofit groups in the form of cash and in-kind services, such as donating free room space.

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One piece of legislation would keep required club giving at 15 percent, but eliminate direct cash and in-kind donations.

The Gaming Commission estimates it will distribute $1.1 million in tip jar proceeds to nonprofit organizations, fire and rescue companies, and charities for the budget year that ends June 30. It estimated the legislation would increase the agency's distributions next year to $2.45 million.

Supporters said the legislation will also save costs and remove an administrative nightmare the Gaming Commission must go through in determining what qualifies for an in-kind contribution.

Other changes in the bill include:




- A measure that would permit members of the county Gaming Commission to serve two two-year terms. Supporters of the amendment said the current limit of one two-year term causes too much turnover.

- An amendment that would allow members of the Gaming Commission to serve as officers and directors of nonprofit groups, but only if those groups do not apply for gaming funds.

The amendments mark the second time the tip jar law has been changed since 1995 when the legislature first adopted comprehensive gaming legislation for the county. Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said the community should be proud of what it has accomplished so far.

"I'm looking forward to having other counties use it as a model," Hecht said.

The other piece of legislation is simpler in that it only repeals the tip jar regulations' July 1, 1999, expiration date, although some lawmakers felt it was much more important because it guarantees the law will stay.

"This is what we're living with," Hecht said.

Lawmakers said repealing the so-called "sunset" provision this year is important because there are no guarantees how favorably the legislature would look at local gambling laws in next year's session, which follows an election.

"You don't know how the climate would change in another session," McKee said.

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