Charity Bingo-Where Does the Money Go ?

In the state of Texas charity bingo is a big business. It has been estimated that charity bingo generates as much as $700 million annually in Texas. Charity bingo is legal in the state because the lion’s share of the money is supposed to be going to charities but, unfortunately this is not the case. In San Antonio television reporter Mireya Villarreal found out that thanks to little state oversight on charity bingo very little of that $700 million actually makes it to non-profit charity groups.

The Disabled American Veterans is a charity group that used to hold charity bingo games. Percy Spence, the commander of the Randolph Area, Chapter 17, of the Disabled American Veterans said that two years ago the organization entered into an agreement with a San Antonio bingo hall expecting to make money. Instead the chapter was nearly bankrupted. At the time Spence questioned his leadership skills and remembered that it was “Very embarrassing, first of all. Lot of tears at night. How did I let this happen?”

After only eleven months Percy’s organization had to give up their bingo license. Spence stated “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 says that he knows the bingo hall they were doing business with was making hundreds of thousands off of the games but when it came for his group to get their cut they were barely making enough to pay the special taxes associated with charity bingo games.

Reporter Villarreal asked Spence “When you started to look at the numbers, where was the money going?” Spence answered “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 has been researching state records connected with charity bingo for months trying to find out just where the money goes. In 2010 charity bingo games earned $700 million but after prizes were paid and salaries and fees were charities only got $34 million, less than 5%.

The attitude of bingo hall owners does not help the situation. One owner contacted by the reporter refused to speak on camera but said that if charities didn’t like the way they run things they can take their business elsewhere. Thanks to Villarreal the situation has been brought to the attention of state officials. Hopefully lawmakers will remedy the current situation.

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