Bingo bango

Most of the focus of yesterday’s state political news was on the reconvened session of the General Assembly. There was definitely some noteworthy action that came out of Richmond that we’ll discuss later today, but there was another meeting that had a much lower profile but could have just as much impact in various parts of the state: Delegate Chris Jones’s working group on gaming law reform, focusing primarily on bingo. 

Now, some readers may think this is another snark ridden post mocking misplaced priorities in the legislative branch. However, as the Richmond Times Dispatch points out, bingo is a $400 million industry that provides a great deal of support to various charities around the state. However, the practice is fraught with potential for abuse and mismanagement:

The state has grappled with regulating the largely all-cash games since the General Assembly legalized bingo for charities in 1973. After cases of abuse, the state seized control and clamped down with more strict, uniform regulations in 1996.

“Year after year, there’s legislation that’s introduced that affects how we conduct charitable gaming in Virginia. It’s been piecemeal fashion. As a result, I think we need to take a look and maybe re-balance,” Jones said.

Readers in the northern Shenandoah Valley know bingo as one of the mainstays of support for the area’s volunteer fire and rescue departments. However, use of bingo as a means for support has not been without controversy. The town of New Market has had several problems in the past few years related to faulty bookkeeping and embezzlement. The big concern for promoters right now, however, is increasing the pool of players:

Some charities that run bingo games in the state are joining to form the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association, which claims about 50 members. Statewide, 577 charities are licensed to run bingo and raffle games in the state.

The association is seeking several changes, with an overarching goal of attracting more bingo players to make more money for good causes. To do that, they want some higher prize limits and better marketing in general. They estimate that one-half of 1 percent of Virginians play bingo regularly, and that doesn’t include a whole lot of young people.

I think overall charitable gaming laws are very misunderstood. There’s very little knowledge of what is and isn’t legal and when registration is required. From my understanding not a whole lot is legal–I think that the charitable gaming commission has alot of work to do, and it will be interesting to see how they proceed.

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