ANNAPOLIS – Dozens of Western Marylanders testified Saturday against a bill that would turn local regulation of tip-jar gaming over to the state, a plan they called insulting and “a slap in the face.”
Some opponents “were literally going to bring the fire trucks” to Annapolis to protest the bill, said Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany. “Everyone’s up in arms over this.”
Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, introduced the bill that would give the State Lottery Agency control of tip-jar gaming, which has produced millions of dollars for education, fire and rescue and other services in the western part of the state.
Pendergrass said she introduced the bill earlier this week as a possible alternative source of revenue, as the state battles a projected $1.7 billion budget gap during the special legislative session.
While Pendergrass was the only witness to testify in favor of the bill, a diverse collection of librarians, firefighters, lobbyists and other advocates showed up to challenge the bill, saying it would cut off an important source of community funding.
Gaming lobbyist Bruce Bereano called the proposal cruel and “a slap in the face” to Western Maryland, adding that tip jars are part of the fabric of the region.
In tip-jar gaming, patrons buy a numbered ticket and win cash prizes if their number is called. Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties regulate the jars and some of the profits are sent back to the community.
Pendergrass’ proposal would bring those funds under state control. She told the Ways and Means committee Saturday that she zeroed in on tip-jar gaming because it competed with the state lottery.
She said, after questioning from Delegate Robert McKee, R-Washington, that she did not mean to overlook gaming operations in other parts of the state to focus on Western Maryland.
The issue “needs a lot more looking into,” Pendergrass said after her testimony, adding that the compressed nature of the special session does not always lead to “wonderful public policy.”
Pendergrass said the hurried nature of the session meant she was unable to discuss her bill with Western Maryland lawmakers, who were clearly irritated Saturday morning.
“Quite frankly, I’m insulted,” said House Minority Whip Christopher Shank, R-Washington. “You won’t see us in Western Maryland introducing bills about Howard County.”
“I don’t recall this ever having occurred before,” Kelly said, who added the proposal was an arrogant attempt “to cavalierly take away all these funds” from Western Maryland services.
Pendergrass opened her testimony with a toy slot machine that dispensed M&M’s as a way of thanking the committee members for their Saturday work. But her opponents quickly showed they were not in a joking mood.
Ruth Anne Callaham said Saturday’s hearing was “not about a toy dispensing candy.”
“This is about poverty” and children waking up without heat in the house and milk in the refrigerator, said Callaham, the executive director of Food Resources, a Washington County food bank.
Pendergrass was not surprised by the response to her proposal, saying Western Marylanders had started showing their support for tip jars before the hearing.
On that point at least, she got no argument from her colleagues to the west.
“We don’t look too kindly on delegates from Howard trying to intrude and take” tip jars away, Shank said.