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Washington Co. delegates debate tip-jar bill

January 30, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS -- Members of Washington County's General Assembly delegation on Wednesday debated a bill to tighten the county's tip-jar regulations.

The bill would add a state layer to a county prohibition against electronic tip jars that dispense randomly generated numbers.

The machines aren't used in Washington County, which only allows pre-printed tickets, but are in Allegany County, where they have been likened to slot machines.

The bill would set other benchmarks for Washington County's tip-jar gaming, further distinguishing it from forms played elsewhere.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, supported the bill.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, argued that it wasn't necessary and said a state attorney general's opinion bolsters his position.

In a telephone interview, James B. Hovis, Washington County's gaming director, said the state bill would strengthen the standards and safeguards the county already has in place.

Hovis said a second layer of regulation is important because some have challenged the county's ordinance. The county has received many requests - some from out of state, some anonymous - to expand its gaming, he said.

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The bill would not change how Washington County regulates its own tip-jar gaming system, the proceeds of which are distributed to local charities and fire and rescue companies.

With a referendum on slots ahead, officials need to think about how tip jars might be affected and whether Washington County might want to allow different types of gaming machines later on, Shank said.

"If we pass this bill, we can always undo it, if that kind of problem occurs," Munson countered.

The delegation also heard from Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist representing Frank Moran & Sons, an Arbutus-based gaming supplier that does business in Washington County.

"We very, very strongly oppose this legislation ..." Bereano said, noting that Washington County's local ordinance already prohibits slot-machine-style gaming. "You don't need this bill to stop these from coming in because they're already stopped from coming in."

Bereano confirmed during the meeting that he had talked to Hovis about trying to expand the slot-machine-style games into Washington County.

But when Hovis said Munson was opposed, the discussion ended.

"I made it very clear - if Senator Munson doesn't want it, I don't want it," Bereano said.

Delegation members agreed to table the discussion so they could hear more from Hovis.

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