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Commission claims clubs owe more to charity

April 17, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The Washington County Gaming Commission has asked the County Commissioners to bill private clubs and organizations more than $138,000 that was either given to organizations that did not qualify under the county's gaming law or not contributed at all during the fiscal year that ended last June.

The gaming commission voted unanimously earlier this week to recommend the County Commissioners bill clubs that a private accounting firm has concluded owe money.

In some cases, the clubs made contributions or provided in-kind services to organizations that did not qualify as charities under the law. In others, the clubs did not provide enough information for authorities to determine if the contributions were legitimate.

Ten clubs did not contribute the full amount from tip jar profits to charities, according to the audit from Smith Elliott Kearns & Co.

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"It was the law during that time and we have to follow through with it," said Kathy Sterling, director of the Washington County Gaming Commission. "It's the numbers that come off their own reports."

Fred R. Rohrer, chairman of the gaming commission, said the clubs were asked to provide information about their questionable contributions.

"It's their own fault. They were sent letters back in December," he said. "It's up to them to come in and explain."

Under the law, clubs were allowed to keep 90 percent of their gross profits from tip jars, a popular form of gambling in Washington County.

The law required clubs to contribute the other 10 percent - 5 percent to the gaming commission and 5 percent to charities of their choice in cash or in-kind services.

But Smith Elliott Kearns determined that 264 of those donations violated the regulations in one way or another.

Some recipients did not qualify as charitable organizations, for instance. Others were not located in Washington County.

Another 49 donations were questioned because the clubs did not provide enough information to determine if the contributions were valid.

Several members of the clubs said they were not at fault and have not been told that they were.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Jim Sprecher, commander of the Washington County AMVETS. "This is the first I've heard of it."

The accounting report said the AMVETS contributed $13,445 less than was required.

The report said the Fraternal Order of Eagles fell $12,218 short of its requirement. A member of the club, who did not give his name, said that was incorrect.

"That's totally inaccurate. We were exactly on the money," he said.

The Conococheague Sportsman's Club was supposed to have contributed $2,630 to charities last year, according to the report. Wayne Jordan, the club's former housing grounds chairman, said that figure is too high.

"We contributed the percentage we were required to contribute," he said. "It's simple mathematics. It's 5 percent of what you take in."

At least two Washington County Commissioners said they are not certain the clubs should be billed for the entire amount.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said the clubs should given a chance to contribute to legitimate organizations rather than paying into the gaming fund.

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said much of the issue is a matter of interpretation. Now that the state has changed the law to require a straight payment, the confusion should be eliminated.

"It's time to move forward," he said.

If the clubs are ordered to pay, more than $138,000 will flow in the county's gaming fund, Sterling said. She said there is currently more than $376,000 in the fund.

The extra money would be distributed to fire and rescue squads and charities under the regular formula. Fire and rescue companies get 40 percent of the money and the gaming commission doles out the other 60 percent to charities that apply for funds.

"It would be good news to them, more money for the charitable organizations," Rohrer said.

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