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Tip jars bring in $30.9 million in 6 months

July 12, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

When a Williamsport Red Men Club member puts a $20 bill on the bar and orders a Pepsi, you can be sure he plans to play tip jars, club manager Gardner Cook said.

About one out of 10 tip jars in Washington County is played at the Red Men club, making it the most popular outlet for the games of chance, according to Gaming Commission records.

The Red Men has topped the list since regulation of tip jar gambling began two years ago.

Its lead seems to be growing.

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After winners were paid, the club made $622,875 for expenses and charity in the first half of the budget year that ended June 30.

The club is on pace to exceed its first-year gambling profits by $200,000, records show.

Cook said a combination of good food, friendly atmosphere and a chance to socialize with 3,700 fellow members brings people into the club on Lappans Road.

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Because there are so many members, the jars that work like raffles sell out quickly and people don't have to wait long to find out if they've won prizes that range from $5 to $100.

On a busy night, a jar can sell out in just 15 minutes, he said.

"It's just like going to Atlantic City," he said.

Tip jar gambling is on pace to be a $61.8 million industry in Washington County this year.

People spent about $30.9 million on tip jars in the first half of the budget year. Second-half numbers are still being counted.

After payouts, $5.1 million was left over for expenses and charity, records show.

Every day, about 274 tip jars are played at taverns and private clubs in the county.

A portion of those profits goes into the gaming fund, which the Gaming Commission distributes to charity.

The commission gave away $931,250 in January. In September, the commission will give away an additional $1 million, said Director Kathy Sterling.

By law, the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association gets 40 percent. The volunteer commission will distribute the rest.

Right now, the commission is reviewing 86 grant applications from human service agencies, educational and cultural groups and athletic and youth leagues.

"It's a tougher job than people realize," Commission Chairman Fred R. Rohrer said.

Among the requests: Boys & Girls Club, $34,260 to replace a gym floor; Antietam Commemorative Committee, $10,000 toward hosting a national re-enactors' convention here; CASA Inc., $31,519 for furniture for its new women's shelter; the Community Free Clinic, $95,091 to fund its lab and medical program; Food Resources Inc., $100,000 to build a new food warehouse; Hagerstown Soccer Club Inc., $10,000 for new fields.

The number of applications keeps growing, along with the amounts being requested, he said.

"No one wants to go out and have a fund-raiser anymore. No one thinks this well is going to go dry," he said.

Next year, the pot of money to be distributed is expected to increase by $600,000.

A law that went into effect July 1 requires private clubs to give 15 percent of gambling profits to the gaming fund. Now, they are required to give 7.5 percent to the gaming fund and 7.5 percent to charities of their choice.

The Maryland General Assembly this year also removed the tip jar regulation's expiration date of July 1, 1999.

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