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Local delegation must resist state plan to regulate tip jars

December 02, 2005

There's no nice way to say this, so let's just say it straight out: The proposal by Del. Sheila Hixson to have the state regulate tip jar gambling here is no better than a playground bully's attempt to steal a smaller child's lunch money.

Gambling has been tightly regulated here for 10 years by local people. It not only returns a larger percentage of the money wagered to its players than the state lottery, it also provides millions for charitable causes.

Every dollar that goes to unneeded state regulation is money that will be lost to nonprofits that do everything from mold young people's character to providing medical care to the indigent.

As we have said previously, the success or failure of this bill will be a measure of the clout - or lack of same - of Washington County's General Assembly delegation.

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Del. Hixson, D-Montgomery, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said that there is no bill pending for the 2006 session, but said there may be one later tied to slots legislation.

The issue first surfaced in 2004 when House Speaker Michael Busch added it to his own version of the slot-machine bill. This followed a 2003 report from Buddy Roogow, head of the Maryland Lottery, who told Hixson's committee that $78 million was wagered on tip jars here in 2003.

What Roogow didn't mention was that the figure included payouts to players, which are more generous by far than any game the state runs.

To get awards from the share of tip jar money devoted to charity, applicants must appear before the Washington County Gaming Commission, a citizen-led group that makes applicants justify their requests in great detail.

No nonprofit that got money in 2005 will get any in 2006 unless its officials provide the commission with evidence of how they spent last year's money and what good things happened as a result.

Enforcement of the law has been tough as well, with fines of up to $1,500 levied for violating the rules.

Unless Hixson and company can show that there is some wrong here that needs to be righted, her attempt will be exposed for what it is - an attempt to siphon off a share of the money for the state.

Barring some finding of wrongdoing or irregularities, shouldn't the idea of local courtesy apply here?

Hixson would no doubt be outraged if a Washington County lawmaker tried to introduce a bill regulating nonprofits in Montgomery County. She would likely use her clout to get it killed.

That's what Washington County lawmakers need to do with this bill. And, if needed, representatives of every nonprofit helped since 1995 need to go to the state capital in a show of force that will tell Hixson that Washington County has a good thing that does not need to be "improved" with her help.

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