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Gaming director says bill would hurt county's nonprofits

February 09, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Saying the proposal would result in decreased funding for nonprofit groups, Washington County's gaming director asked the County Commissioners on Tuesday to oppose a bill that would give the state oversight of charitable gaming activities such as tip jars.

Gaming Director James B. Hovis said that under House Bill 212, the state comptroller would set regulations on gaming activities, such as tip jars, and would require nonprofit groups to justify their use of the gambling proceeds.

Hovis said he feared that if the state sets the gaming regulations, proceeds from tip jars would also go to the state.

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"This bill would have a devastating effect on charitable and nonprofit organizations in Washington County," Hovis told the commissioners.

The Washington County Gaming Commission was created in 1995 to distribute money collected from the profits of tip jars.

Tip jars are a form of gambling in which people purchase peel-off tickets from large jars in the hope of winning cash.

Clubs, taverns, liquor stores, restaurants and others that operate tip jars give 15 percent of their jar's profits to the gaming commission, which distributes the money to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association and nonprofit and organizations, as required by state law.

In August, the gaming commission handed out $2.8 million to 101 organizations. That was a 5 percent increase over the $2.76 million it distributed a year earlier.

"The legislation proposes that those organizations receiving proceeds from gaming prove their bona fide nature, character and viability," according to information Hovis provided to the commissioners.

In addition, tip jar operators would have to "submit an overwhelming amount of data and information concerning their gaming activities," according to the information provided by Hovis.

"The number of tip jar operators will be decreased, resulting in decreased funding for charitable and nonprofit organizations," the information states.

The commissioners expressed concern over the bill but did not take a vote opposing it.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said that, based on advice from the Maryland Association of Counties, the county would have more success getting its views across by showing support for the bill but then outlining any amendments the county feels should be made to it.

"I'm being realistic," he said. "I don't think anything Washington County says or does is going to stop this from moving forward."

The commissioners directed staff to write a letter informing the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly of how the county's gaming program works and where the proceeds go.

"We should name everything we fund with it," Commissioner John C. Munson said.

A hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee has not yet been scheduled. Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, serve on that committee.

Committee Chairman Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, sponsored the bill along with four other committee members, all of whom represent Prince George's or Montgomery counties.

Staff writer Tamela Baker contributed to this story.

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