Looting Hawaiian Gardens
Editorial: Big-time bingo
by Sacramento Bee
Originally published 20 February 2002
in Sacramento Bee

Are legitimate charities losing out?

When voters legalized charitable bingo in 1976, few envisioned huge, glitzy bingo halls operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with hundreds of millions of dollars in cash flowing through them. But that's the reality in many cities today.

According to the Sacramento Sheriff's Department, the five big bingo halls that operate in the county bring in about $40 million a year, virtually all of it in cash. Experts in gambling say that with any business that operates with that much cash, the potential for money laundering, embezzlement, skimming and other crimes is huge.

Some of the bingo proceeds go to legitimate charities, including high school booster clubs, churches, police athletic leagues. Still, by far the biggest winners are the for-profit businesses that own and operate the bingo halls and rent them to charities, and the suppliers who provide the cards, the pull tabs and other bingo equipment. Even more disappointing, many small bingo operations run by churches and community charities have been driven out of business by the big bingo halls.

Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, complains that the number of charity bingo operations in Los Angeles has dwindled from 161 to just 38 in recent years. Polanco has introduced a bill that seeks to give legitimate charities a greater opportunity to compete in a field that was legalized for their benefit in the first place. Whether the bill he has authored, SB 832, can do that is unclear. It is facing powerful opposition from for-profit bingo interests and is still in flux. Nonetheless, the legislation highlights the loopholes in the state's gambling laws that legislators need to close.

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