Officials gear up to protect tip-jar gaming in Washington County

Many fear that as state legislators search for revenue sources, charitable gaming will come under attack

December 27, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Every year, thousands of "tips" - pieces of paper - are pulled apart in clubs, bars, fire departments and during special fundraising events. If certain numbers are printed on the small piece of paper, a cash prize is awarded to its holder.
File photo

Washington County officials are gearing up once again to defend the county's tip-jar gaming program from the threat of a potential revenue grab in Annapolis, county Gaming Director James B. Hovis said.

"In anticipation of some rumors we've heard out in Annapolis that our gaming system may be under attack, so to speak, again this year, we wanted to be prepared," Hovis told the Washington County Commissioners earlier this month.

Asked later about those rumors, Hovis said they were not specific, but that he was hearing "bits and pieces" of speculation that, as state legislators search for revenue sources in a tight budget year, some are interested in looking at charitable gaming as a potential source for state revenue.

In Washington County, revenue from the sale of tip jars, a form of paper gambling, is distributed by the Washington County Gaming Commission to charities and fire and rescue companies.

"If the state's desperate for money and they're trying to balance their budget and start looking at what revenue there is, they may look at gaming across the state as a way to kind of get a piece of that," said James F. Kercheval, a former commissioner who now heads the Greater Hagerstown Committee, which helps set the agenda for the Washington County Community Lobbying Coalition.

Kercheval said the lobbying coalition wanted Hovis to "prepare for the worst" in case talk in Annapolis turns in that direction.

"I know sometimes there's some confusion when you're looking at the state gaming reports and they look at certain gross numbers, not realizing that you have to net out the winnings out of that and then the overhead of the people that are collecting the tip jars, and when you get to that, the number's not quite as big," Kercheval said.

Hovis said he worked with Kercheval and the coalition's lobbyist, Michael V. Johansen, to develop a "talking-points" handout about how the gaming program benefits the local community.

"Washington County's charitable tip-jar gaming program benefits and provides vital services to children, seniors, the disabled, the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the abused," the handout says.

The gaming program provides jobs for more than 1,000 local residents, it says.

In fiscal year 2010, it saw $47 million in gross sales and about $5 million in net profits, according to the handout.

The talking-points handout describes the county's gaming program as having a reputation of being "well- regulated, with strict oversight by local and state government."

The handout also lists specific, quantitative details about how organizations are using this year's gaming revenue distribution. For example, it says funding distributed in 2010 will allow The Salvation Army to provide more than 19,194 hot meals to the hungry and the Community Free Clinic to provide comprehensive health care to more than 4,000 patients.

"Jim (Hovis)'s goal was to put a public face on where that money goes and show that Washington County continues to have a model program," Kercheval said.

Hovis said he readied an e-mail list that could be used to spread the news of a potential threat to all gaming revenue recipients.

"This way we can keep them informed, we can include legislators' addresses, e-mails, fax numbers, and hopefully we can get everyone involved in the process to protect our system," he said.

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