Posted on 26 June 2013
Charity bingo is big business in some states. In Texas charity bingo brings in about $700 million annually. There is a problem though; of that $700 million only $29 million actually made it to any charities. The problem is a lack of regulation and oversight. So just who is in charge of regulation of charity bingo in Texas? The answer is not clear. Just about everyone involved in charity bingo is more like a large corporation than a charity.
In Corpus Christi the Columbian Ladies of South Texas operate bingo games to make money for their church Our Lady of Guadalupe. The group is affiliated with the Knights of Columbus and host games on Wednesday nights. The group took in about $1.12 million last year and paid out more than $860,000 in prizes and expenses. After expanses the charity only got 3% of the $257,000 that was left over. The group is supposed to pay the charity 35% after prizes and expenses but they didn’t come close. The group’s treasurer Dee Escamilla told reporters “I can’t even come up with a figure.” The group is registered with the IRS as a 501(c) (3) which means there are a ‘nonprofit.’
So what does the group actually do? Betty Constante, a member of the group, told reporters “We give out scholarships and we have Christmas parties for the children, especially families right here from the bingo, because they’re the ones that support our bingo, and we help our church, the Lady of Guadalupe Church.” The Columbian Ladies offer scholarships that range from $1,500 on down. In 2012 the group paid out less than $8,000 to the charity which does not fund many scholarships. So where does the money go?
Last year the group hosted 157 bingo sessions which averages out to $48.76 per session for the charity. The group brought in over a million dollars and averaged $7,000 per session. The ladies get paid for their time and some make more than $75 per session; more than the charity receives. The women admitted that they actually started the group to start the bingo games and do not raise funds any other way. One member of the group made $12,000 last year. There is very little oversight. The Texas Lottery Commission is supposed to regulate bingo but enforcement is lax. A 2012 Sunset Advisory Commission report found that bingo has “very real opportunities for fraud.” In the meantime charities are being cheated out of their rightful share of bingo revenues.
Posted on 07 April 2013
In several states so called ‘internet cafes’ have put severe pressure on charity bingo games. In Florida the business created quite a scandal after the Lieutenant Governor was forced to resign because of her connection with internet cafe operations and missing millions. Florida Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign a bill this week banning the cafes, effectively putting them out of business. The law will have an impact on several veterans’ organizations where the gaming machines help to finance veteran’s programs including one that helps ill veterans to get rides to doctor’s appointments.
Wilson Glass, a 71 year old veteran and a member of the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Holly Hill, told reporters “This is not a storefront cafe. A private club like this should be left alone if it’s a legitimate thing. It’s not all about gambling here. I might win or lose a little money. But even if I lose, it helps vets.” Glass seems resigned to the fate of the arcade at the veteran’s hall and said “I think the governor will sign the bill, if only because of the pressure put on him.” Scott spokesman, John Tupps, said the Governor will sign the bill by April 12th.
The Florida legislature acted swiftly after an investigation into the Allied Veterans of the World revealed a $290 million illegal gambling business where proceeds that were supposed to be used for veteran’s causes ended up in the owner’s pockets. Law enforcement officials arrested 60 people connected with the operation and closed internet cafes throughout the state. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll who served as a consultant to the bogus charity while a member of the Legislature was forced to resign in March.
State Senator John Thrasher said that after Scott signs the bill businesses and veteran’s organizations with gaming machines must discontinue their use. Thrasher told reporters “This bill is about machines. If they have machines that look and are programmed like slot machines they have to get rid of them. They must act and look like slot machines to be illegal. . . . The intent is to stop illegal gambling.” Thrasher said that local sheriffs and state attorneys will be in charge of enforcing the new law.
Internet cafes had operated because of a loophole in Florida law that allows corporations like Coke or McDonalds to offer sweepstakes to customers. The internet cafes sold computer time and offered sweepstakes using slot machine like video games. Trey Turner, general manager of the Sands Internet Cafe told reporters “We’ll shut the doors and our software will automatically be shut off. We don’t want to break any laws. We don’t want to do anything illegal. We’ll comply with the law.” Ohio is considering similar laws after several charities complained that internet cafes were siphoning off money that would usually be generated by charity bingo and casino games.
Posted on 09 November 2012
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.
Posted on 21 October 2012
Several recent news reports revealed that in some areas charity bingo is in real trouble. In the United States bingo has long been associated with churches, charities and fraternal organizations. In some cases the demise of charity bingo games has had a very adverse effect on the communities affected. In Ohio one parochial school had to shut down because of dwindling bingo receipts at games. Today charity bingo games are facing pressures from several sources.
In some states Native American tribes have set up extensive gaming operations including large bingo halls with large jackpots that charity games cannot match. The tribal games have lured many players from their regular community based charity games. In Arkansas charity bingo operators say that bingo halls now face competition from casinos, the state’s lottery and a state tax on bingo cards. In 2008 bingo became legal in Arkansas and since that time state issued bingo permits have declined by 30
Gene McVay, former commander of the American Legion Post 31 in Fort Smith echoed the sentiments of many charity game operators and told reporters “I don’t know anybody who can afford (to run) bingo (operations).” McVay said his post was forced to abandon its long running bingo games because of the tax on bingo cards. In 2007 Arkansas set a $600,000 budget for a new five-person division to monitor bingo operations in the state. The division is funded by the 1 cent tax on bingo cards. Bingo operators told state lawmakers that the tax is excessive and is taking away money for charities. McVay vented his frustrations with the tax and said “That pretty much killed bingo in Arkansas, to my knowledge” and added that several other Legion posts have closed their bingo games because of the tax.
In Nebraska charity bingo is in real trouble. This year the state’s biggest charity bingo game shut down. Holy Name parish in Omaha started hosting bingo games in the 1950s. During the game’s heyday the church made about $250,000 per year from the games. Today there are not enough players to justify the expense of running the games. Operators cite expanded gambling in Nebraska for the decline. If states legalize online gaming bingo halls will face new competition from online bingo sites. Who knows, maybe some enterprising group will start their own charity online bingo games.
Posted on 18 October 2012
It’s no secret that bingo games have been in decline for the past decade. A combination of smoking bans and a poor economy have forced many bingo halls to close. The decline has been disastrous for many charity bingo games and many fraternal organizations and charities say the expense of running bingo games can no longer be justified because of the sharp drop in revenues. Bingo is in decline throughout the United States and Canada. In Ontario Canada revenues from bingo games dropped from $250 million a year to about $50 million. The Ontario Charitable Gaming Association said that 10 years ago 6,000 charities relied on bingo for their funding. Today that figure has declined to 3,000.
Bingo has never been the most popular game among gamblers. In 2002 Statistics Canada reported that bingo was played by 8% of all gamblers, well behind most forms of gambling. Bingo players have a reputation for being loyal to their favorite game. 21% of all bingo players say they play at least once a week. Not surprisingly women outnumber men by two to one at bingo games. Elizabeth Goldfield has been playing bingo for decades. She uses old fashioned cards and a dauber to mark them. Goldfield stated “I come four times a week, I bring all my money over here. It’s something to do. I’m old, what else have I got to do? I only won once, a thousand dollars.” Goldfield usually plays with her 81 year old brother Maurice Cohn and are part of a dying breed of bingo players.
Lynn Cassidy, the executive director of the Ontario Charitable Gaming Association, said that bingo needs to be modernized to survive. Ten years ago there were 200 bingo halls in Ontario and today there are only 70 left. Bingo faces competition from other forms of gambling and online bingo. In Ontario bingo halls are going electronic and are taking advantage of the latest bingo technology. At several Ontario bingo halls players have a choice between playing the old fashioned way or playing on a computer. Tom Aikins, the manager at the Boardwalk Gaming Centre, described the advantages of electronic bingo and told reporters “With electronics you can run outside or go to the washroom and come back in two or three minutes and with one touch of a button you can catch up on all your cards so you don’t miss a bingo.”
Five years ago electronic bingo began as a pilot project and today the bingo industry is moving full steam ahead to modernize bingo halls across Canada. Not everyone wants to make the switch. Maurice Cohn prefers to play the old fashioned way. Cohn stated “I don’t like the electronic — too boring. You just sit there and watch nothing else to do. It takes the fun out of it.” Lynn Cassidy of the Ontario Charitable Gaming Association says bingo is in serious decline and needs all the help it can get. Cassidy stated “The reality is … the industry is declining roughly at about 10 per cent a year. We’re hoping we can get some direction prior to another election because then you have to start again even if it is the same government.”
Posted on 23 September 2012
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.