Jar proceeds climb

Despite selling fewer tip jars than in the previous year, total proceeds for Washington County sellers were slightly higher for

Despite selling fewer tip jars than in the previous year, total proceeds for Washington County sellers were slightly higher for

January 11, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

They're as much a Washington County staple as crab feeds and sweet corn. But during fiscal year 2003, more than 6,000 fewer tip jars were sold by local clubs, taverns and fire and rescue companies than the year before, according to records released in the past week by the Washington County Gaming Office.

Nevertheless, total proceeds - the money left after payouts and costs - were slightly higher.

The Gaming Office reported that tip jar sales totaled $83.1 million for 93,202 jars sold in fiscal year 2003, which ended June 30. Tip jars generated nearly $4 million less than 2002's sales of $87 million.

But total proceeds for 2003 were $11.79 million, compared with $11.77 million for 2002.

How can that be?

"The mix has changed," said gaming office Director Daniel DiVito.

Changes in gaming regulations since 2000 permit taverns to play larger tip jars, he said, allowing them to play fewer jars but make a bigger profit.


For example, taverns that sold jars with 600 tickets - or tips - now may sell jars with up to 1,500 tips, DiVito said.

That may account for the increase in total proceeds, but other factors contributed to the decrease in the number of tip jars sold, he said - not the least of which was the uncertain economy.

"I absolutely believe it has a direct effect" on local gambling, he said.

And while there was speculation last year that an increase in slot machines at Charles Town Races in Jefferson County, W.Va., was cutting into tip jar sales, DiVito said he believes the effect has been minimal.

"I really don't see slots as a problem," he said. "With the aggressive marketing Charles Town does, we would see a huge change. A group of people in a club will jump on a bus and go to Charles Town, but they're not going to abandon their club.

"Tip jars are a popular form of entertainment. There's a social element that you don't have with slot machines," he said.

But a factor that probably did contribute to the decline in sales - although it may not have been obvious - was last year's unusually damp weather, DiVito said. Rain resulted in lower attendance at annual picnics where clubs routinely sell tip jars, or the events were canceled altogether.

In any case, the slump in tip jar sales may have been a temporary one. DiVito said that so far, sales for fiscal year 2004, which began July 1, were up 7 percent through December.

Big sellers

Once again, the Williamsport Redmen club was far and away the top seller. Although selling slightly fewer tip jars than the year before, the club still outdistanced the Funkstown American Legion, in second place, by more than double the total receipts.

Asked about their success at selling tip jars, representatives of the Redmen declined to comment.

Of the top 10 sellers, nine are private clubs. One is a tavern.

By law, taverns are permitted to keep 15 percent of the profits from tip jar sales, and clubs may keep 50 percent. Fire and rescue companies are permitted to keep all profits from their own tip jar sales.

The rest of the proceeds are distributed on an annual basis, with 50 percent going to the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association for distribution to the fire and rescue companies. The other 50 percent is given to charities. Each organization must submit an application to be considered for funds.

"Last year, 125 separate organizations applied," DiVito said. Requests totaled $3.8 million; there was $1.3 million in the fund to distribute.

The Washington County Gaming Commission, a volunteer board, had to sift through all the applications to decide where the money should go.

"Each application can be an inch thick," DiVito said.

More accountability

The sales figures for fiscal 2003 were released a little later than usual because the gaming office has implemented a new system for tracking tip jar activity. It's been a three-year project, DiVito said, involving the entry of nearly 600,000 records into a new computer program.

The system went into operation in September, he said, and should lead to a more accurate accounting of tip jar sales.

The new system allows the gaming office to keep a more accurate account of wholesalers' sales of tip jars to operators, as well as operators' reports of sales to their customers.

Although DiVito said the gaming office was "still tweaking" the system to eliminate any minor inaccuracies, it already has enabled the office to identify problems without waiting for quarterly reports from tip jar operators.

"We're catching all kinds of stuff," he said.

For example, the system allows the gaming office to track every tip jar.

"If a wholesaler sells a jar and doesn't report it, we know," DiVito said. "We're doing audits and other things that haven't been done before."

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