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Tip jar gambling revenue down 11.2% in Washington Co.

October 25, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Tip jar gambling revenue in Washington County fell 11.2 percent in fiscal 2008, the sharpest drop in four years, and the county's gaming director said the economy is the likely culprit.

Gamblers in Washington County spent about $63.7 million on tip jar games in fiscal 2008, which ended June 30, according to a report released Friday by the Washington County Gaming Office. That amount is about $8 million less than the $71.7 million spent on tip jars in fiscal 2007.

Tip jar revenue, a portion of which is distributed annually to local charities and volunteer fire and rescue companies, has fallen every year but one since 2003. In 2006, tip jar revenue increased by $1.9 million.

Washington County Gaming Director James B. Hovis has cited the sluggish economy as a possible reason for decreasing revenue both this year and last year.

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"In the absence of an in-depth study, one can only speculate that the downturn in the local and national economy has contributed to this decline," Hovis wrote in this year's report.

In tip jar gambling, players buy tickets in hopes of winning cash. The tickets, which usually cost a dollar, are printed with a number. One of the tickets corresponds with a winning number sealed on the tip jar.

The Washington County Gaming Commission regulates tip jars in the county, selling them to businesses and collecting a portion of the revenue, which is distributed to nonprofits and volunteer fire and rescue companies.

Each year, the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association gets half of the distributed revenue; the rest is divided among nonprofits that apply to receive a portion of the funds. Not all groups that apply for funds receive money.

The fire and rescue association received $1.3 million this year. Another $1.3 million was divided between 82 nonprofits and charities. More than 100 organizations applied to receive gaming funds.

Most of the revenue from tip jars every year is given back to the winners. In fiscal 2008, winnings accounted for $52.8 million, or 83 percent, of total revenue.

Not-for-profit clubs, such as the Red Men, American Legion and Moose Lodge, account for most of the county's tip jar gambling every year.

Of the 69,486 tip jars sold in fiscal 2008, 40,913 were operated by not-for-profit clubs.

Those clubs sold about $38.7 million in tickets and earned about $6 million in profit before operating costs.

Taverns and fire and rescue companies also operate tip jars, as do some charitable groups on a temporary basis.

Combined, those outlets operated 28,573 tip jars in fiscal 2008. They sold about $25 million in tickets and earned about $4.9 million in profit.

In fiscal 2008, the Improved Order of Red Men Conococheague Tribe 84 in Williamsport operated the most tip jars in the county, generating more than $7.6 million in revenue from 6,332 tip jars.

Last year, the club sold nearly $8.5 million in tickets.

Calvin Bonebreake, general manager of the club, said the decline in tip jar gaming has been noticeable over the last nine months or so.

Though members don't really talk about it, he said the reasons are obvious.

"Disposable income. Butter, milk, eggs, gas, heating oil. 401(k) looking like miserable. It's a source of entertainment, and when times are tough, it goes," Bonebreake said.

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