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County to brief state on gaming

November 25, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Local state lawmakers thought they'd staved off disaster last spring when a bill that would have required the comptroller's office to monitor Washington County's charitable gaming activities died in the House Ways and Means Committee.

But while that bill died, the issue of whether the state should regulate local gambling continues to twitch a bit.

Committee Chairman Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, has invited gaming officials and representatives from nonprofit organizations from Washington County and other areas to brief the Ways and Means Committee on their gaming activities and how they are regulated. The briefing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Joint Hearing Room of the Legislative Services building in Annapolis.

The two Washington County delegates who serve on the committee believe Hixson might introduce another gaming bill during the upcoming legislative session.

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But Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, believes Washington County could be amended out of the legislation because it's charitable gaming already is heavily regulated.

Even so, he and Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, remained concerned that such a bill would eventually result in the state getting a portion of the gambling money generated here.

"At some point down the road, if there's a fiscal problem, they could look at all that and say 'we could use 10 percent of that,'" McKee said.

Hixson was traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday and unavailable for comment.

McKee said the briefing had two purposes - to determine what gaming activities were going on in the counties, and how they were being regulated. Most of Washington County's charitable gaming revenues come from tip jar sales.

Information gathered Wednesday could determine whether Hixson pursues another bill in the next legislative session, he said.

A number of county representatives traveled to Annapolis in March to testify against House Bill 212, which would have required the comptroller to make annual reports to the governor and the legislature showing whether money collected for nonprofits through gaming activities was actually going where it was intended.

The Department of Legislative Services estimated then that enforcing the regulation would cost the state more than $180,000 in its first year.

Hixson was the lead sponsor of the bill.

After the hearing, the Ways and Means Committee never took a vote on whether to send the bill to the full House for consideration.

McKee said the county's gaming commission already collects all the information the comptroller's office would be seeking. He added that the county's nonprofit agencies "don't need to be burdened" with additional record-keeping for the state.

The Washington County Gaming Commission reported last month that it distributed more than $3 million to local nonprofits during fiscal year 2005, which ended June 30. Half of the disbursement goes to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

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