Frederick sheriff stages series of gambling raids Deputies take a pop at Tootsie Roll prizes

September 23, 1991|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

FREDERICK -- In the history of crime-fighting, police have raided a variety of establishments such as speakeasies, stills, bookmaking parlors and crack houses.

The Frederick County Sheriff's Department has added Putt-Putt golf courses to the list.

Sheriff Carl Harbaugh embarked on a series of raids to find businesses in possession of illegal poker machines and tip jars. Most of those businesses have been bars, but three deputies showed up Sept. 11 at the Frederick Putt-Putt Golf Course -- which also has an arcade and batting cages -- and removed a poker machine that pays off in Tootsie Rolls and toys.

"They may have been paying off in Tootsie Rolls for prizes, but the poker machines are still illegal and are contraband," Sheriff Harbaugh said. Owners of the Putt-Putt course could not be reached for comment.

The Putt-Putt raid may have only uncovered Tootsie Rolls, but other investigations elsewhere have turned up more than $25,000 in money connected with illegal gambling activities so far, Sheriff Harbaugh said.

Sheriff's deputies have also confiscated 18 illegal betting machines and numerous tip jars, punchboards and gambling documents, he said.

No arrests have been made. The evidence will be presented to a grand jury Nov. 1 to decide whether any indictments will be issued.

"We believe there is a lot of untaxed money out there," Sheriff Harbaugh said. "We're trying to stop that and get the individuals behind the illegal gambling in the county. We're not necessarily out to get the people who play the machines or tip jars. We want to see where this leads."

He said he also wanted to have the laws clarified for gambling activities of non-profit organizations. "We want to make sure what they are doing is legal," Sheriff Harbaugh said.

Frederick County officials and state legislators are working with the sheriff's department to change the county gambling laws not only to accommodate non-profit organizations but to make sure their activities are controlled.

The laws currently allow such organizations to offer bingo games if cash prizes are no more than $5 and if they get a permit.

"That's not being done here now," Sheriff Harbaugh said. "Some places are offering cash prizes of more than $1,500 and not getting any permit."

"We hope to change the statutes to allow them to do what they are doing now, but requiring permits to provide some accountability," he said. The proposed changes would not affect gambling in bars and other for-profit establishments, which would remain illegal, he said.

"The difference is that a vast majority of the non-profit money goes back into the community for community activities," he said. "In the private businesses, it goes into somebody's pocket."

Legislators and law enforcement representatives are scheduled to meet today to discuss proposed changes in the gambling laws.

Some bar owners have talked about banding together to defend themselves and to consider lobbying for legal changes so that gambling would be allowed in their businesses.

Wayne R. Wiles Sr., owner of Cactus Flats, a Frederick bar that was among those raided, said about 12 business owners came to a meeting at his bar last week to talk about their options. "We got hit as a group and want to see if we should get group representation," he said.

Mr. Wiles said officials are hurting taxpayers, not helping them, by shutting down the gambling operations. "They are losing more revenue now because we won't get as many people in our places, and they will lose sales tax revenue," he said.

He said that other meetings will be held and that there was a hope of attracting businessmen who were

not raided: "We want to get some support to make it legal so everyone can get more revenue out of it."

Sheriff Harbaugh said the gambling raids are probably over for now. "It was taking place relatively flagrantly in a lot of bars," he said. "We didn't get them all. We just didn't have the resources and time to get them. But we think when the grand jury meets, it will have a significant impact on illegal gambling in Frederick County."

The raids, he acknowledged, were not popular, though he has not received much backlash from patrons who play the games or other residents. "Surprisingly, I really haven't had much flak," he said.

Except for the Putt-Putt raid. "Now they call me the Tootsie Roll guy," he said. "But when you look at it, even giving away Tootsie Rolls on a gambling machine is wrong, because you're teaching kids how to gamble."

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