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Bettors spend more on jars than last year

November 11, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Bettors averaged about $234,000 a day on tip jar gambling in Washington County in fiscal 2002, according to Washington County Gaming Office documents.

Altogether, gamblers spent approximately $85.5 million on tip jars - almost $10 million more than was wagered in the previous year, the documents show.

Gamblers spent $75.8 million in fiscal 2001 and $62.8 million in fiscal 2000, Gaming Office Director Lisa Kalkbrenner said.

The tip jar statistics surprised some Gaming Office officials who earlier this year speculated the amount of revenue would drop somewhat as Charles Town Slots & Races added more slot machines.

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Kalkbrenner, Washington County Gaming Commission Chairman Orlyn Oestereich and Washington County Club Association President Jack Tritsch said they could not explain why tip jar sales and revenues continued to increase.

While total sales and revenue were up, some businesses and clubs reported decreases which they attributed in part to the advent of slot machines at the horse racing track in nearby Charles Town, W.Va.

Charles Town Races & Slots has more than 2,600 slot machines, up from 220 in 1997. Track officials have state lottery commission approval to install 3,500 machines altogether.

As the number of slots increases, so do the odds that Washington County residents will leave the county to gamble, Tritsch said.

For now, the popularity of the slots could be reducing their impact on tip jar sales.

Tritsch said some Washington County residents have gone to Charles Town to play the slot machines but became frustrated because they had to wait in line. As the number of slot machines increases, the lines may disappear and local residents may return there more often, he said.

Charles Town Races & Slots President Jim Buchanan has said 34 percent of the business' customers come from Maryland. It would not surprise him if gambling on slot machines cuts into tip jar sales, he has said.

Buchanan could not be reached for comment this week.

If state-run slot machines are made legal at Maryland racetracks, as Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has proposed, that could also cut into sales as people go elsewhere in the state to gamble, Tritsch and Kalkbrenner said.

The economy also might be affecting tip jar sales.

Darryl Sword, owner of Antietam Tavern/The Corner Pub, said he thinks the economy is hurting sales at his and other businesses.

Kalkbrenner said the reverse could also be true, with some people gambling more in response to economic problems.About 105 businesses, clubs and fire and rescue companies sold tip jars in fiscal 2002 - about the same number as in 2001 and 2000.

Total gross proceeds from the tip jars before expenses increased from approximately $10.9 million in fiscal 2001 to $11.5 million in fiscal 2002.

The greater the proceeds, the larger the amount of money that goes to the Gaming Commission. As mandated by state law, the commission distributes half of the tip jar profits for a given period to nonprofit organizations and half to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

Taverns give 50 percent of tip jar profits to the Gaming Commission and clubs give 15 percent. The fire and rescue companies are not obligated to give any money to the commission.

Gaming fund distributions for nonprofits and fire and rescue companies increased from approximately $2.55 million in fiscal 2001 to $3.06 million in fiscal 2002, Kalkbrenner said.

The Gaming Commission was created in 1995 to distribute money taxed on the profits of tip jars. The amount of money distributed has increased annually since then.

The biggest tip jar seller in fiscal 2002, 2001 and 2000 was the Williamsport Redmen. The club sold 9,287 tip jars in 2002. It made proceeds of approximately $1.2 million in each of the three years.

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