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County tip jar gamblers bet less

profits up

October 11, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Parent Child Center Executive Director Millie Lowman called Washington County's gaming program a "blessing."

The money the center receives through proceeds from tip jar gambling helps the facility pay for child abuse prevention and teenage pregnancy programs.

Because the center receives no federal or state funding, it relies on gifts and private donations, she said.

"The (Washington County) Gaming Commission money from tip jars is truly a blessing ..." Lowman said. "It would truly be a hardship for the Parent Child Center to receive no funding from the Gaming Commission."

In Washington County, tip jars mean big business.

Gamblers spent approximately $71 million on tip jars in fiscal year 2005, about $2.6 million less than last fiscal year.

But because the jars are larger than in previous years, gross profits for clubs, taverns and fire and rescue companies increased.

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"Jars now have a larger profit for the operator," Gaming Director James B. Hovis said Monday.

In playing tip jars, gamblers purchase peel-off tickets from jars in the hope of winning cash.

Many tip jar operators are required to give a portion of their proceeds to the Gaming Fund, which the commission then distributes to nonprofit groups.

The larger the profits, the more money the Gaming Commission has to give to local nonprofit groups and fire and rescue companies, according to the fiscal year 2005 gaming report.

The Parent Child Center received $50,000 from the Gaming Commission in fiscal year 2005, Lowman said.

"That was like, thank you God," Lowman said.

Gross profits from tip jars totaled nearly $12.6 million in fiscal year 2005, which ended June 30. That amount was higher than in fiscal year 2004, which saw more than $12.1 million in gross profits.

Gross profits are what is left after payouts are made. The amount does not include operating costs or the cost of the jar, according to the Gaming Commission.

"The vast majority of the money wagered is returned to the customer when they present 'winning numbers' to the operator," Hovis said in a written statement.

In fiscal year 2005, for example, 83 percent of the approximately $71 million wagered was returned to the customer, Hovis said.

Nonprofit clubs pay 15 percent of gross profits to the Gaming Fund, and taverns, liquor stores and restaurants pay 50 percent of gross proceeds to the fund, Hovis said.

Temporary license holders and fire and rescue companies do not contribute to the fund.

The increase in profits allowed the Gaming Commission to distribute more than $3 million to county nonprofit groups in fiscal year 2005, a 6 percent increase over fiscal year 2004. Half of the disbursement goes to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

"It has been a great benefit to the community," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Monday. "It's provided a lot of services ... to the nonprofits here in the community."

Since tip jar gaming began in 1995, the Gaming Commission has distributed more than $28 million to charitable organizations, Hovis said.

While the county has had success with its gaming program, Snook and Commissioner John C. Munson said it's possible the state again might try to take control of the program during the upcoming legislative session.

Legislation was proposed during last year's Maryland General Assembly session that would have the state comptroller's office monitor charitable gambling in the state.

"I'm totally against that," Munson said. "If the state takes it over in Washington County ... people should all stop playing. Use some other form of game for gambling."

Munson said the tip jar program is important for the county, because it provides financial assistance to nonprofit groups that otherwise wouldn't receive money from the county. He said county government can't afford to contribute to all the nonprofits in the county.

"If the state takes it over, there's no way they're going to let the county have all that funding," Munson said.

He urged nonprofit groups to contact local delegation members "to let them know their feelings."

Snook said there have been attempts by the state in the last three or four years to control the program.

"We'll have to continue to lobby to make sure it stays here in the county," Snook said.

Lowman said she's willing to help with such an effort.

"It's really a good thing that Washington County does," Lowman said. "We need it to be left exactly the way it is."

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