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Legislators cite need for tip jar oversight

April 08, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County's tip jar gambling bill, which would block groups who operate tip jars from also selling gaming supplies, passed a crucial test Wednesday when it was approved unanimously by a Senate panel.

Sen. Donald F. Munson fought off several attempts to change the bill, which is aimed at preserving oversight of $83 million a year in gambling.

Munson, R-Washington, argued that even minor changes to the bill would jeopardize its chances for passage before the session ends at midnight Monday. Any changes would have to be approved by the House of Delegates, which passed the bill by three votes.

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"I'm just terribly afraid if it goes back to the House it's dead," Munson, R-Washington, told members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

After a short discussion, the committee voted to send it to the Senate floor for a final vote without amendments.

In order to detect fraud, Washington County Gaming Director Dan DiVito compares reports from each group. He has said he wants to keep a solid barrier between the two groups.

The Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association, which has been fighting the bill, has applied for a license to sell gaming supplies. Its members operate tip jars.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, who generally opposes gambling, supported the legislation as a member of the Washington County Delegation and the committee.

"If we're going to have gambling, we should make sure there's no tampering," he said.

When the bill came up for a vote late Wednesday afternoon, several senators on the committee commented on how hard Munson had been lobbying them.

"He's been working this bill big-time," said Sen. John Giannetti, D-Prince George's.

Chairman Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, offered an amendment that would have preserved a $250-per-jar limit on bar and tavern profits. As it stands, the cap would be lifted by the bill.

Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George's, wanted to require the Gaming Commission to disclose wholesalers who owe money.

Munson said he wasn't opposed to either amendment, but asked the committee not to adopt them. He said he was willing to introduce legislation next year to deal with those issues.

"Passage of this bill means keeping gambling honest and fair in Washington County. The failure of this means exactly the opposite," Munson said after the vote.

The restaurant and beverage association has hired lobbyist Jay Schwartz to fight the legislation.

Supporters of the bill have their own lobbyist, Bruce Bereano, who represents wholesaler Frank Moran and Sons.

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