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Witnesses to speak out against Md. gaming bill

March 02, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Local witnesses are expected in the capital this afternoon to testify against a bill to have the state comptroller's office monitor charitable gaming activities.

But Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said Tuesday that the bill's lead sponsor told him she had no intention of using the information that would be gathered to siphon off money collected in Western Maryland for use by the state, as has been feared.

In Washington County, a large percentage of money raised through the sale of tip jars is given to charities and nonprofit organizations. Half the money distributed each year goes to fire and rescue organizations.

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Last year, the Washington County Gaming Commission distributed nearly $3 million to more than 100 charities, nonprofits and fire and rescue companies. Nearly $25 million has been distributed in the past 10 years, according to a report by commission Director James B. Hovis.

Clubs in Washington County are required to give 15 percent of their income from tip jars to charities; liquor stores and taverns must give 50 percent, McKee said.

Allegany County has similar regulations, with some of the money raised there going to education.

Sponsor's reassurance


The bill, which would implement new reporting requirements for charitable gaming, is scheduled for an afternoon hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee. Committee Chairman Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, is the bill's lead sponsor.

McKee said he and Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, had asked for a meeting with Hixson "to find out how serious she was" about the bill.

"I showed her a couple of things about Washington County's process," he said, "and I told her there was great concern back home that this would open the door to a taxing process" that would send a percentage of tip jar sales to the state.

"She tells me, 'absolutely not,'" McKee said.

What could emerge, McKee said, would be a nominal yearly administrative fee for conducting gaming activities.

If that's the case, McKee said Hixson was willing to talk about letting the Washington County Gaming Commission pay one fee for all the agencies it regulates.

McKee said Hixson's bill is tied to the possible legalization of slot machine gambling in the state. He said she was concerned that there might be unreported local gambling in some areas of the state that could adversely affect the state's projected income from slots.

Charitable organizations in some areas of the state already use slot machines to raise money, McKee said. He added that Hixson wanted reporting on all gaming activities, including commercial bingo parlors.

Even if it isn't Hixson's intent to open the door to a tax on charitable gaming, House Speaker Michael E. Busch seemed prepared last week to at least leave it ajar. Noting that Washington County officials had needed to fine-tune its own reporting and distribution system, Busch said he believed the state should regulate such gaming, and that local jurisdictions should be willing to share.

Coincidentally, the Ways and Means Committee also will hear proposed legislation this afternoon to regulate gaming activities in Garrett County.

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