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Bingo operator seeks OK to add tip jars

March 04, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- The owner of Washington County's only for-profit bingo business wants to sell tip jars and is pushing for a change in state law that would allow her to do so.

Jackie Stoner bought the bingo license for Bingo World -- formerly known as Stoddard's Bingo -- in December 2008, and said she is hoping to open in April. The business is in the basement at 111 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown.

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who is working for Stoner, told members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday that any customers at Stoner's Bingo World would not affect tip jar sales at nonprofit establishments. Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Glenn Fishack said the organization is against the proposed change.

"There are 14 or 15 fire departments that have this opportunity and privilege," Bereano said. "So, the notion of her competing or being a threat or concern to the fire halls ... I don't see as real because it's 14 against one, and hers is a small establishment."

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Fishack disagreed.

"It takes money away from fire companies," he said. "We're definitely against it."

Steve Moran of Frank Moran and Sons supported Stoner's request. Moran's business is a licensed wholesaler of gaming supplies.

Lawmakers took no action on the bill, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, suggested that Stoner and Bereano look into whether fire companies and county officials would support the change.

Jim Hovis, Director of Washington County's Gaming Office, said there are 113 fire companies, social clubs, liquor stores, taverns and restaurants that operate tip jars, according to fiscal year 2009 data. Depending on the establishment, a portion of the proceeds from the jars goes back to the county and is distributed among local charitable organizations.

Stoner said Wednesday it was her understanding that if she were approved for the tip jar license, a portion of her proceeds also would be returned to the county.

"It's very much beneficial to Washington County," Bereano said.

Hovis sent an e-mail to delegation members saying County Commissioners do not appear to support the tip jar change, but he said by phone Wednesday the board has taken no official action on the subject.

Commissioners President John F. Barr said the full board did not have an opportunity to discuss the matter Tuesday due to a power outage. However, Barr and Commissioners Kristin B. Aleshire and James F. Kercheval discussed Stoner's proposal and were against it, Barr said.

"The bingo hall is a for-profit organization, and our first thoughts were that's not fair to the nonprofit fundraisers ... fire and rescue carnivals," Barr said.

Stoner said Wednesday she thought county officials would embrace the idea of additional revenue.

"Some of the money goes to the county ... With the economy the way it is right now, you'd think they would welcome this with open arms," she said.

Because current laws do not allow for any additional commercial bingo licenses to be granted, Bereano said the tip jar change would affect only Stoner's business and would not lead to an influx of commercial bingo parlors in Washington County.

Stoner's is the only commercial bingo license in Washington County. Bingo Island closed after it was operating only one day a week.

"I just want to be competitive," Stoner said. "I just have so much competition out there, and I'm scared I'm not going to do well if I don't have tip jars."

Stoner said the former owner of Stoddard's once questioned why people weren't visiting the business. She said the response was, "If you had tip jars, we'd be there."

"With all due respect, you bought that license knowing the restrictions under the law," Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said.

Shank said he wanted to hear what Washington County's Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association had to say about Stoner's proposal.

Without a quorum of members, the delegation took no action on the bill, but Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., said the bill would be unlikely to get support in a House of Delegates committee without support from County Commissioners. Weldon is unaffiliated and represents parts of Washington and Frederick counties.

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