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Tip jar tickets now sold in machines

November 30, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Patrons at Old Orchard Liquors can feed up to $20 at a time into the store's new vending machine.

But what they get in return isn't a soft drink or laundry soap. They get tip jar tickets for $1 apiece.

Tip jar ticket dispensing machines are a relatively new phenomenon in the world of Washington County gambling, which has long embraced the raffle-like tip jar game.

While the machines are efficient, they have yet to catch on with vendors and players, many of whom prefer to buy their chances from a bartender or store clerk, said Daniel DiVito, director of the Washington County Gaming Commission.

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A handful of private clubs have been using the machines for more than a year, with a limit of one machine per club.

Recently, DiVito instituted a 90-day trial period for retail outlets and bars. So far, only three have made the investment. They are Old Orchard in Halfway, the Yellow House Tavern near Boonsboro and West End Pub in Hagerstown.

The idea is that people can keep gambling even when the servers get busy, DiVito said.

"I'm all for anything that increases sales, which means there would be more money going into the fund. More money for charity," he said.

Since tip jars became regulated in 1995, about $23 million in profits have gone to the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association and local charities, he said.

The law doesn't spell out how the tickets are to be dispensed, he said.

It's too early to tell if the machines will bring more money into the Gaming Fund, he said.

But so far, the machines have gotten a lukewarm response from players.

"It's slow going," DiVito said.

Traditionally, a bartender or store clerk randomly draws the tickets for each player by hand. Often, the tickets are kept in a jar.

Sometimes, players pool their money or have side bets going with each other, DiVito said.

"It's a social thing," he said.

Kevin Skrabak of Smithsburg said he tried the machine at Old Orchard, but it wasn't the same as buying tickets the old-fashioned way.

"It's no fun with the machines. It's just like everything else, it takes the personal stuff out of it," he said.

The clerks at the store know him and his 7-year-old daughter Katie, who enjoys opening the tickets for him.

But when Donna Barton, 44, of Hagerstown stopped by Old Orchard on Wednesday to try her luck, she bought some tickets out of the machine and some from the clerk.

"You have just as much chance," Barton said.

Barton spent about $40 to get a "holder," which is a shot at winning $100.

Her holder points out another difference in the machine tickets vs. the jar tickets.

Some of the machines contain instant $100 winners instead of holders.

Charles Smith, 38, of Marlowe, W.Va., said he plays both ways when he gets some extra money.

"It doesn't really matter to me. I just enjoy playing," he said.

Old Orchard Liquors installed its machine after a robbery at the store, said Manager Kim Kidd.

In theory, the machine should deter thieves by reducing the amount of money behind the counter, she said.

It also frees up the store clerks for liquor sales, which make up the bulk of the business, she said.

Some bars have resisted the machines because bartenders like the tips that winning gamblers receive, said John Glazier, president of G&P Distributors of McConnellsburg, Pa., which sells the machines along with other Bingo and tip jar supplies.

But business owners seem to like the machines once they are installed. Although they are catching on slowly, they are catching on, he said.

The machines keep better tabs on the money, said Frank Moran of Frank Moran & Sons, a Baltimore gaming supply distributor.

When bartenders or store clerks distribute the tickets, there's always a chance for mistakes or even dishonesty, he said.

Moran said he sells a certain style of ticket dispensing machine that looks very similar to slot machines. A screen tells the player whether the ticket is a winner at the same time the ticket falls, he said.

"It walks like a duck and it swims like a duck, but it's not a duck," Moran said.

If Maryland legalizes slots, as legislators are talking about doing next year, Moran estimated his business could drop by 60 percent.

"Bingo would disappear," said Moran, who used to sell Bingo supplies in Delaware until slots were legalized at racetracks there.

DiVito said he doesn't think slot machines would hurt tip jar gambling, which has not decreased since the advent of slots at nearby Charles Town (W.Va.) Races & Slots.

As for Barton, she said she'd rather play slots than the tip jar ticket machine at Old Orchard.

"I'm more into the machines across the river," she said.

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