Officials are watching gaming bills

February 28, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Although two pending state gaming bills don't explicitly address Washington County, some observers are wary they'll impinge on the county's bountiful tip-jar operation.

One bill would create a Maryland Gaming Commission to oversee gambling, issue licenses and collect fees.

The bill doesn't explain its effect on county tip-jar systems, but Washington County Gaming Director James B. Hovis said on Tuesday it could be a threat, leading to state control.

"We definitely, without a doubt, should oppose that," he told the Washington County Commissioners.

The bill would devastate small businesses, county government and nonprofit organizations that receive county gaming revenue, he said.

Washington County's tip-jar system brings in millions of dollars that are divided among nonprofit organizations, including the Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association.

Del. Richard K. Impallaria, R-Harford/Baltimore County, the bill's sponsor, didn't return a message left at his office.

A second bill would create a task force to study Maryland's "charitable and commercial gaming activities."


Del. Jon S. Cardin, D-Baltimore County, the bill's sponsor, said the state should study all forms of gambling before launching another, referring to slots. Everything would be reviewed, he said, even fire hall bingo games.

"Western Maryland has a well-known and good gaming program," Cardin said. "It's working. But is there adequate oversight?"

Both bills will be heard next week by the House Ways and Means Committee, of which Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, is a member.

Del. Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, the committee chairwoman, said the task force bill wasn't meant to alter Washington County's tip-jar system. "They're the prototype that others should follow," she said.

She was not familiar with Impallaria's gaming commission bill.

Neither was McKee. But he said both bills should be fought if they try to take on Washington County's gaming operation.

"We don't need another commission to regulate (us)," he said. "The county should do it themselves. Ours is, and ours is doing it well."

Staff writer Tara Reilly contributed to this story.

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