Frederick commissioners in stalemate after heated hearing on tip-jar study

June 14, 2000|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK -- The Frederick County commissioners now know the kind of vitriol they will spark if they place tighter regulations on tip-jar gambling, a pastime more popular here than the Maryland Lottery.

Yesterday, they listened to an hour of threats and complaints from veterans groups and others who make money from the game, then stalemated on a 2-2 vote over whether to kill plans for a task force to study increased oversight of the gaming.

They will return to the issue next week when Commissioner Ilona Hogan , who is vacationing in Eastern Europe, returns to break the tie. Hogan could not be reached yesterday, and her staff said she has not made her views on tip jars public.

Yesterday, almost 50 people packed a tiny hearing room so full that Commissioner David P. Gray instructed that "the men should give their seats to the ladies."

The crowd was decidedly against changing Frederick's tip-jars system, in which fraternal clubs and veterans groups keep all proceeds and donate as much as they wish. Bars and taverns are required to give 70 percent to charities of their choosing and can keep the rest.

In December, Del. Sue Hecht, a Democrat representing parts of Frederick and Washington counties, asked the commissioners to establish the task force and look at Washington County, where a gaming commission collects proceeds and distributes them to charities that apply for help.

"The idea of raising money and putting it into a pot was formed by Karl Marx years ago and its called communism, and it's dead and gone in Russia," said Hugh Warner, a member of Frederick AmVets, which, according to county records, made almost $110,000 on tip jars last year.

Hecht, who was at the meeting, has said that charities are not receiving enough of the proceeds in Frederick. She fears that some money could be winding up in the wrong hands.

According to the county, operators of tip-jar games took in $5.1 million last year. Hecht estimates that $650,000 of that was given to needy causes.

Veterans groups said they don't donate much of their proceeds because they spend the money on their own needy causes. Al Tharp, a volunteer at the VFW in Hagerstown, said that since Washington County's stricter rules went into effect in 1995, his organization's revenue has decreased by $600,000.

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