Originally published 13 May 2001
in Long Beach Press-Telegram
Recently this newspaper reported, in essence, that a bill
under consideration by the state Legislature to place a few mild limits on
the operation of California bingo barons probably would be gutted by proposed
amendments. The story followed an editorial criticizing the bill for largely
being sparked by the actions of our local bingo baron, Dr. Irving Moskowitz
in Hawaiian Gardens.
prospect of this bill being gutted saddens me. A good case can be made that
while the original bill is a step in the right direction, stronger, not weaker
controls need to be placed on the burgeoning bingo industry.
bill tries to do is to restrict ``charitable'' bingo to four days a week
and require that profits from California bingo players be used to support
California charities. Apparently, both of these mild controls are now heading
for the trash heap.
The original law allowing charities to have bingo
games was passed decades ago as a small exception to California laws outlawing
gambling. The exception was intended to allow charities such as churches,
boys and girls clubs and the like to put on small, amateur bingo games as
a method of raising funds to help support themselves.
Over the last
decade, however, this ``small'' exception to our anti-gambling laws has grown
to gargantuan proportions. Today, bingo has spawned a major industry spewing
out hundreds of millions of dollars a year, often to dubious causes all over
the world. Surely, this result was never contemplated by the drafters of
the original charitable bingo exception to our gambling laws.
far has the bingo industry strayed from its modest beginnings? The operations
of our local bingo baron, Dr. Moskowitz, in Hawaiian Gardens, illustrates
what has happened.
Originally, it was contemplated that a small charity
might put on bingo games once or twice a week. The Moskowitz operation is
open seven days a week.
Originally, it was contemplated a small charity
might conduct two-to-four-hour bingo sessions. The Moskowitz operation runs
full throttle all evening.
Originally, the small charities were expected
to use their modest bingo profits to support their own local efforts. The
Moskowitz operation is reported to have produced over $28 million in profits,
$20 million of which directly or indirectly ended up out of the state or
out of the country.
Originally, all profits from bingo were supposed
to be used for charitable purposes. Moskowitz critics claim that hundreds
of thousands of dollars per year that went from the Moskowitz operation to
a nonprofit hospital ended up being paid to Moskowitz as rent.
the small charity was expected to conduct its bingo games on its own premises
such as a church basement. Moskowitz conducts his operations in a large bingo
hall used especially for that purpose.
Originally, small charity bingo
was expected to be a stand-alone gambling activity. The Moskowitz operation
is reported to have used the economic and political power resulting from
its bingo operations to obtain approval from Hawaiian Gardens to operate
a neighboring huge poker palace as a ``for-profit'' business. This mixing
of ``not-for-profit'' gambling with ``for-profit'' gambling was never originally
Originally, it was contemplated the city in which the
bingo games were conducted would police and control their operations. Critics
of the Moskowitz operation claim that the opposite is true in Hawaiian Gardens.
They claim the Moskowitz operation controls the city.
They claim that
when Moskowitz's operations had legal business dealings with the Hawaiian
Gardens Redevelopment Agency, Moskowitz was able to persuade the agency to
hire the lawyer representing Moskowitz to also represent it. Thus, both sides
in the business negotiations were represented by the same lawyer, a lawyer
who had represented Moskowitz's interests for years. As an ex-deputy city
attorney I must say that if these charges are true, I have never heard of
such a bizarre situation.
I have used the Moskowitz operation as an
illustration of the problem because it is local. The problem, however, apparently
is statewide in scope. It appears from the newspaper article that California
bingo barons united in opposition to the bill presently under consideration
in Sacramento. Together, I am afraid, they have sufficient clout to defeat
any meaningful reform of our bingo laws.
The proposed changes to the
bingo laws are but a modest step in the right direction. We need to go further.
Bingo sessions should be restricted to four hours a day, no more than two
days a week. Money derived form bingo should have to be used directly for
the charity conducting the games. Oversight and auditing of the bingo industry
should be by a state rather than a local government, perhaps by the state
Gambling Commission. Only then will bingo in California return to the original
intent of its sponsors.
Wherever professional gambling operations
go they bring with them major political and social problems. Allowing small-scale
amateur bingo to grow into a major professional industry is proving no different.
Let us hope it is not too late to return bingo to the amateur charitable
cottage industry it originally was meant to be in California.
Charles E. Greenberg is a member of the Long Beach Planning Commission.
Copyright 2001, Long Beach Press-Telegram For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.