Originally published 25 January 2001
in OC Weekly
years ago, after California legislators gave the states charities a monopoly
on bingo, high school football teams, senior citizen centers and religious
organizations got in on the act. But nobody has earned more money from so-called
charity bingo than Brea businessman Donald R. Havard.
limit bingo games: one event per week that must be held at the charity itself.
But some citiesInglewood, Vacaville and Galtare more liberal. In exchange
for a percentage of the take, they've allowed bingo-hall operations seven
nights a week anywhere in the city. Thats where Havard moves in.
Inglewoods Hollywood Park Racetrack & Casino, for example. Havard holds
the lease on the casinos bingo hall and rents it to the Samoan Congregational
Christian Church of South Los Angeles. The church runs Samoana Bingo seven
days per week and pays Havard about $1,093 per night in return. Despite raising
millions of dollars each yearmuch of which has gone to Havard, a host of
other local charities, and the city of Inglewoodthe Samoan Church still hasnt
built a church on the vacant lot it owns in Carson.
bingo parlors rake in millions of dollars per year, smaller charities are
struggling with fewer and fewer customers. Santa Anas Temple Beth Sholom
has seen its annual bingo proceeds plummet by a thirdfrom $120,000 per year
five years ago to just $80,000 last year.
Rabbi Jerry Goldstein says
operators like Havard are to blame. "We operate within the intent of the
law," Goldstein said. "We are a volunteer organization and can only operate
once a week. Its obvious that we face unfair competition from the major bingo
games. Those games are jazzed-up. They draw their customers in with huge
advertisements and glitzy distractions that we cant afford. And theyre open
seven days a week. I cannot imagine a legitimate charity organization that
has volunteers working every day of the week. I think there should be very
strong regulation of California charitable bingo in order to level the playing
The one serious attempt at reform is headed for failure. Early
last year, state Senator Richard Polanco (D-LA) introduced Senate Bill 832,
a bill that would have put the clamps on major bingo operators like Samoana
Bingo. But on April 11, 2001, Havard sent Polancos office a six-page letter
outlining his concern that the bill "would have severe negative impacts on
charitable bingo." Among other things, Havard argued against limiting the
number of days per week a charity can hold bingo, limiting the amount of
prize money that can be given out, or requiring charity bingo outfits to
submit to annual financial audits that would help ensure proceeds actually
go to charitable activities. All those provisions would have hurt Samoana
Bingo and helped protect smaller operations like Temple Beth Sholoms weekly
"Were not opposed to good regulation, but there were so
many faulty elements to the bill," Havard said. "They took out all those
elements, so I wouldnt say we oppose the bill."
In fact, opposition is no longer necessary: Polanco has pulled SB 832.
may delight Havard, but most small charities are frustrated. "I support what
Polanco tried to do with his bill," Goldstein said. "It would have leveled
the playing field. . . . The intent of making charity bingo legal in the
first place was to support organizations like our synagogue, but its been
hijacked by guys who are out to make a lot of money."
a bingo manager with Orange Unified School Districts Canyon Bingo, said,
"Maybe theres some other way to make these big-time bingo operators obey
A recent legal opinion by the California Legislative Counsel
suggests that Havards operation violates the 1976 law that created charity
bingo. "Section 326.5 of the Penal Code prohibits a qualified charitable
organization from renting space in a bingo parlor operated by a for-profit
organization that provides space exclusively for bingo games," the opinion
But thats just an opinion, and so far, no state agency has
moved against Havard or others like him. Havard points out that while some
have accused him of exploiting a legal loophole, he has always cooperated
with local law enforcement. And while he admits the $1,093 per night he makes
from the Samoan Church isnt going to charity, he claimed much of that money
goes toward the purchase of bingo supplies.
"We are responsible for the equipment," Havard explained. "We bought it and put it in there."
And where did Havards company purchase its bingo supplies? As bingo supplier Havard acknowledges, from Havard himself.