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Hovis says state gaming regulation would hurt charities

March 15, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

The House Ways and Means Committee witnessed another skirmish Tuesday in the ongoing turf battle over who should regulate charitable gaming in Maryland.

Legislators offered bills for more regulation, and gaming officials and charities argued that more control would hamper fundraising efforts for nonprofits that benefit from gaming activities.

"I'm not all that wild about expanding gaming," said Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, sponsor of one of the bills. But he said he didn't mind permitting charitable gaming as long as "we make sure the state is monitoring it correctly."

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Cardin's bill, similar to a proposal bitterly opposed by local gaming officials last year, allows charitable gaming to expand to counties where it doesn't exist now, but charges organizations a licensing fee and requires them to be monitored by the state comptroller's office.

Local legislators have predicted the bill has little chance of passage.

Cardin told the committee the revenue from the bill "could potentially be millions" - which would provide plenty of money for the comptroller's office to hire more staff and do more auditing.

The bill would help resolve what Peter Kinos, involved in the restaurant and bar business in Baltimore, told the committee is a "problem with accountability." Kinos said he had followed city regulations for charitable gaming, but other businesses had conducted gaming activities but "never bothered" to get the proper permits. "Questions were being asked about 'who's doing it' and 'what's happening to the money.'"

With checks and balances, he said, the state might expose the corruption.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, asked Cardin whether the comptroller's office wanted to take on the extra work.

"They don't have enough to do?" he asked.

Cardin countered that he'd asked the comptroller's staff whether they had any reports from "Western Maryland tip jars and where the money goes." While the county gaming commission sends reports to the comptroller's office, he said, "they get a report they can't do anything with" because the office can't audit them.

"I can provide you with the information you're looking for," said Washington County Gaming Director James Hovis, adding he knew how much money the organizations took in and how much was disbursed to nonprofits.

Approval of Cardin's bill "would have a devastating effect on charitable gaming," Hovis said, including the possibility that such activities would "cease to exist."

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