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Tips are still tops in Washington County

February 06, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

Tip jars remain Washington County's premier form of gambling, with players spending $64.5 million, before payouts, on tickets in the last fiscal year.

For every $100 gambled from July 1997 through June 1998, $83.50 went back to the players as winnings, according to county Gaming Commission records.

The profits to bars and clubs during those 12 months totalled $10.7 million, the records show.

During the same period, people spent $16.8 million here on the lottery.

Tip jars are similar to raffles. Players buy tickets, some of which pay off in cash prizes ranging from $1 to $100.

For the first time since tip jar regulations were adopted in 1995, the Maryland General Assembly won't be considering any changes to the county's tip jar law during the current 90-day legislative session.

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Gaming Commission Director Kathy M. Schilens believes the law is working fine.

Since 1995, the Gaming Commission has collected $4.2 million from the tip jar sales. About $1.7 million has gone to the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association and the rest has gone to charities chosen by the commission.

Steve Harbaugh, who sells tip jars wholesale, says the private clubs and taverns who run the games have valid complaints about the regulations, which involve a lot of paperwork.

"This is a double-sided coin. I can see what everybody's gripe is," said Harbaugh, owner of Harbaugh Coin Machines in Hagerstown.

Tip jars aren't as lucrative for the bars and clubs as some people think, he said.

"There's nobody in this county getting rich off it," he said.

Clubs keep 85 percent of the profits and give 15 percent to the gaming fund. Bars and liquor stores keep 50 percent of the profits or $45, whichever amount is smaller.

The establishments must pay a bartender or waitress to sell the jars, and there is much overhead in time spent on record-keeping, Harbaugh said.

The detailed records go to the Gaming Commission, where they are computerized.

Overall, Harbaugh believes the system is working.

"I'm not saying it's the best, but it's working. At least the county is doing something good with that money," he said.

Schilens expects the commission to give away an average of $2.4 million a year.

On Tuesday, another $1.2 million will be distributed, with $722,168 of that going to charities.

Among the requests is a controversial one from the Clear Spring American Legion - the first private club to apply for Gaming Commission money.

The legion, which gave $11,862 of its tip jar profits to the gaming fund last year, is seeking a $5,000 grant to fund scholarships.

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