Charity Bingo Doesn’t Always Benefit Charities

Bingo has been used by charities, fraternal groups and veteran’s organizations to raise money for decades. In Texas charity bingo is big business and generates about $700 million a year for charities in the state. But how much of that money actually makes to the charities. Texas has no oversight over charity bingo games and many people are suspicious that most of the money raised by bingo games never makes it to the nonprofits. Percy Spence is the commander for the Randolph Area, Chapter 17, of the Disabled American Veterans said that two years ago his group signed an agreement with a San Antonio bingo hall hoping to make big bucks. Instead the chapter went broke.

During that time Spence questioned his skills as a leader. Spence said it was “Very embarrassing, first of all. Lot of tears at night. How did I let this happen? “After 11 months Spence’s group had to call it quits and gave up their bingo license. Spence told reporters “You can get in debt real quick. And this is the lottery commission and they know you’re out there to make money. But if the commanders or the people in charge of these 501(c) (3)’s are not smart with the business, it can bankrupt you right quick.” Spence said the bingo hall his group worked with was raking in hundreds of thousands but when it came to collecting their share they were barely making enough money to pay the taxes.

Mireya Villarreal, a trouble shooter from a local television station, asked Spence what happened. Spence replied “When you started to look at the numbers, where was the money going. It’s very hard to tell. The expenses were more than what we were bringing in, basically.” Unfortunately Spence’s story is not uncommon in Texas. Villarreal has been reviewing state records that document how much money is going to bingo halls and charities. In 2010 bingo generated $700 million. After cash prizes were paid and salaries and fees were deducted charities received a paltry $34 million or about 5% of the total.

It appears that there are some pretty shady operators taking advantage of charities. Garcia Properties, Inc. runs three halls, including Callaghan Bingo. On several occasions reporters tried to speak with company representatives without success. San Antonio State Representative Jose Menendez is on a committee that oversees the Texas Lottery. When presented with the facts Menendez became concerned. The Charitable Bingo Division had its funding cut and claim they do not have enough staff to monitor bingo games. Charitable Bingo Director Phil Sanderson has refused all requests for an interview. Charities in Texas should explore the possibilities of online bingo for charity. At least they could bypass an indifferent bureaucracy.

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