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Witnesses say new law would hurt charities

March 03, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Representatives of the county's gaming office and its fire and rescue companies flocked to the capital Wednesday to testify about proposed legislation that would have the state comptroller's office monitor charitable gambling in Maryland.

Their message was, in a word, "don't."

Daniel Divito, director of permits and inspections for Washington County and the former director of the county Gaming Commission, told the House Ways and Means Committee that local organizations that conduct charitable gaming already have plenty of monitoring.

"We strongly believe additional reporting requirements will have a detrimental effect on agencies depending on the money" that comes from gaming activities, Divito said.

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Clubs, charities and other entities that sell tip jars in Washington County must file quarterly reports and are subjected to on-site inspections and, if necessary, investigations if problems arise, he said. Applicants for money the gaming office distributes annually to charities and nonprofits follow a three-month application process.

In Washington County, clubs that sell tip jars must send 15 percent of their income to the gaming commission for distribution to charities. Taverns and liquor stores must send 50 percent. Fire and rescue companies that sell tip jars may keep their income.

Last year, 92,000 tip jars were sold in Washington County, Divito said.

In the past 10 years, the gaming office has distributed nearly $25 million from tip jar sales to local charities and to fire and rescue companies.

Jay Grimes of the Williamsport Volunteer Fire Company told the committee that the county government doesn't have the resources to pay for all the needs of fire and rescue companies, so they rely on gaming activities.

"We have about 72 fund-raisers a year," he said.

If they had to provide the required reports to the comptroller's office, "the additional paperwork would make it impossible to sell tip jars," he added.

Committee Chairman Sheila Hixson, lead sponsor of the bill, said the bill was designed to "get a handle on gaming in Maryland.

"We want to license people who do gaming in Maryland," she said, adding that a license would likely cost less than $100.

She also assured those who feared the reporting requirements would lead to a new tax on charitable gambling that "we're not out to get a piece of your organization."

But Tom Altman, president of the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association, said the license alone could be hurtful.

"We have some companies that's just not gonna make it if they have to give up some of the monies on the table," he said. "Even the $100 would hurt."

Thirteen members of local fire and rescue companies traveled to Annapolis, in addition to gaming officials. But Washington County organizations weren't the only ones opposed to the bill.

Lobbyist Jay Schwartz, representing the Catholic Veterans Association, said the bill would hurt that organization's bingo games.

"When you grow up Catholic like I did, bingo is a way of life," he said.

Hixson tried to reassure him.

"We do see a separation between church and state," she said.

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