Veterans Ask for the Return of Charity Bingo

Charity bingo in Tennessee had been a big business until the bingo ‘scandals’ of the late 1980’s which effectively shut down charity bingo in the state. The investigation into charity bingo in Tennessee was dubbed ‘Operation Rocky Top’ and revealed a pattern of corruption involving operators and state officials. The investigation began when a freshman legislator reported that a bingo lobbyist had offered him a hefty ($10,000!)bribe and bragged about bribing other lawmakers. The investigation resulted in 50 convictions and sent several lawmakers to jail. At the time there were about 300 bingo operations in Tennessee with annual revenues of $31 million dollars. The investigation also revealed that many bingo operations were run by professional gambling organizations with no connection to any charity groups. The aftermath of the investigation effectively shut down charity bingo in the state.

Bingo has been a very effective fundraising tool for many charities. Veterans’ organizations were hard hit by the bingo ban and recently a coalition of veterans groups approached the Tennessee legislature to ask for bingo’s return. The coalition has proposed strict regulations to prevent a repeat of the widespread corruption of the 1980’s and say that they need charity bingo to help pay bills, fund community service projects and aid to veterans. A state Senate committee heard from top officials of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AmVets and Vietnam Veterans of America.

The veterans groups favor an amendment to the Tennessee State Constitution to permit bingo and other games of chance by charitable organizations. The proposed amendment would replace a section of Tennessee law that allows the legislature to authorize charitable groups to hold one charitable fundraising gambling event a year. American Legion of Tennessee finance officer Mike Hammer told a legislative committee, “Bingo provided a large amount of discretionary funds for the American Legion. It paid for scholarships and other things. The bottom line is, when you remove the discretionary funds from the American Legion or any service organization, their ability to help their community drops.”

The amendment would overturn the rule limiting veterans and charitable groups to one bingo fundraising event per year. Some lawmakers said the fear a return of the corruption of the past but supporters say strict regulations could prevent corruption. The veterans groups pointed out that no veterans organization was involved in any way with past corruption. The amendment would have to be approved by Tennessee voters who hopefully will permit the return of charity bingo to the state. At the present time, Tennessee residents must go out of state to play bingo or they can read the many bingo reviews posted online and play at the internet bingo sites of their choice.

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