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Gaming commission a model for others

February 15, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Washington County's gaming commission is a model other counties can - and should - emulate, according to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sheila Hixson.

And she's filed a bill that would force them to.

Hixson's bill, filed last week, caused a little consternation among Washington County gaming officials, said Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington. After fielding calls from home, he said Hixson assured him the bill would not affect the county's program. Rather, she said the bill picks up language from legislation drafted for Washington County in the 1990s.

Hixson has previously drafted bills that would require state regulation through the comptroller's office, which drew ardent opposition from Washington County gaming officials and from the organizations that benefit from charitable gaming.

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But Hixson confirmed Tuesday that her proposal only would require other counties to follow Washington County's lead, and she said she's not looking for state regulation.

The bill instead requires establishing a commission "anywhere where they have gaming" to regulate where the money goes, said Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Not all counties have charitable gaming other than church bingo and similar activities, she said. Others, such as St. Mary's and Queen Anne's counties, do have charitable gaming but are not regulated as Washington County is, she said. The bill would apply to card games used as fundraisers in some counties, she said.

While this bill doesn't require state reporting, Hixson said the legislature would need to look at strengthening regulation on the state level if the General Assembly were to approve slot machines. And while Gov. Robert Ehrlich has proposed yet another slots bill this year, Hixson said she doesn't see slots being approved "anytime soon."

Washington County's system has been "fine-tuned" several times since the original legislation was approved in 1995, said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington. But he said Hixson's bill "is a compliment to our gaming commission."

It also should allow those worried about state interference in Washington County gaming to rest easy, he said. Until Maryland gets slot machines, "those concerns don't need to be there," McKee said.

House Bill 1325

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