County opposes panel on gaming

March 08, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County Gaming Office Director James B. Hovis spoke out Wednesday against a bill proposing a task force to study gambling in Maryland.

Although the bill doesn't directly address Washington County's tip-jar system, Hovis said the county is "very concerned" about the potential of state regulation.

The county also is tracking a bill, scheduled to be heard today, calling for a statewide gaming commission. The bill's sponsor has said it wouldn't affect gaming proceeds for nonprofit organizations.

Del. Jon S. Cardin, D-Baltimore County, who sponsored the task force bill, told the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday that his intent is to gather information about all types of gambling.


The task force would look at regulations governing nonprofit and commercial gaming, the impact on law enforcement and horse racing, illegal gambling and other aspects, according to the bill. Its report would be due by May 31, 2008.

Cardin has told The Herald-Mail that he isn't out to change Washington County's tip-jar system, but said tip jars and other forms of gambling should be examined, especially before the state legalizes slot machines.

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

Through Washington County's tip-jar system, millions of dollars of gaming proceeds are distributed to the county's Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association and various nonprofit organizations.

Lobbyist Bruce Bereano also testified against Cardin's bill, representing Frank Moran & Sons, a gaming wholesale distributor whose territory includes Washington County.

"There are no problems at the local level with gaming operations ...," Bereano said. "There is no need for the state to look at what they're doing ...."

He denounced the task force, calling it a foot in the door toward taxing and regulating local gaming operations, a tactic he's seen before.

"Respectfully, I didn't come in on a pumpkin truck," he said.

Victor Marsh, the commander of American Legion Post 95 in Fells Point, Md., testified that bingo is a form of entertainment and relaxation that works well and should be left alone.

Hovis presented the committee with a letter from Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr, who wrote, "We believe that State regulation will create a second and unnecessary level of regulation, and that it is the first step toward a comprehensive statewide scheme of gaming regulation that would remove local control of tip jar gaming in Washington County."

The letter says a state task force appointed in 2004 to look at slots identified Washington County gaming as a revenue source for the state to control. "This recommendation serves as the basis for our concerns," Barr's letter says.

Comptroller Peter Franchot submitted a letter supporting the bill, citing his concern about "individuals who operate amusement devices who are not paying their fair share in taxes."

Other written testimony came from the Presbytery of Baltimore, Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations. All said they support the bill.

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