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New bingo laws please Goebel

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

When the State cracks down on less than forthright gaming parlors, Brazil residents can yell, "Bingo!"

Sandy Goebel, administrative assistant to the Annunciation Church parish, says 100 percent of the revenue from the church's bingo games at Kennedy's Crossing goes to help fund Annunciaton School.

"Last year, our net was about $50,000 and that's exactly what the school got," she said Monday. "You can imagine how hard it would be if we didn't have that money to help fund the school."

Goebel, who has many duties in the parish, is happy with new rules that go into effect in May.

One example of what she calls "the few that tend to give the majority a bad name" might be SeVille Senior Citizens Center in Muncie. The parlor with the lowest percentage profit among the state's bingo parlors, took in more than $1.5 million last year from hosting bingo games to benefit the center. But it gave only $677 to charity.

The new rules will require bingo parlors with incomes in excess of $500,000 to give at least 10 percent of their revenue to charity.

SeVille is under investigation by the Department of Revenue for license violations.

Under the new rules, SeVille would be required to increase the amount it gives to charity from $677 each year to $152,931.

SeVille's president, Monna Gregory, denied that the parlor currently donates such a small amount to charity, although the group reported the figures in amended filings to the Indiana Department of Revenue. Gregory declined to provide the Indianapolis Star with additional financial information. State officials say they hope to encourage greater accountability with new regulations that will require Indiana bingo parlors to set aside a certain percentage of profits for charity, regardless of the expenses the parlors face.

"One of two things were happening in a lot of cases," said Larry McKee, deputy commissioner of the Indiana Department of Revenue, which regulates charity gaming. "One is that they are operating a very poor bingo game, or there is so much skimming going on that it is eating into the profits. Which one of the two it is, we have no idea."

Several bingo parlors, which had been allowed to keep all of the profits or get away with losing money, have sued the Indiana Department of Revenue over the regulations.

Twenty-five Indiana bingo parlors collectively took in more than $52 million last year, but gave only $1.6 million to the charities they were established to support, The Star said in a story Sunday.

Indiana's charity gaming parlors include two games: bingo and pull tabs, $1 tickets that some say are the paper equivalent of slot machines. Players can win more money on bingo, but parlors make more money on pull tabs.

"You have to have your bingo payout, and you're going to have to have your promotional stuff to get people to come in," said Sheryl Mong, bingo manager at AMVETS Post 12 in Muncie.

Indiana, whose 548 charitable gambling groups took in $559.8 million during the 2003 fiscal year from bingo and pull tabs, is the fourth-largest bingo state in the nation.

But the state's parlors reported losing $4.1 million on bingo during that same period, McKee said.

While many individual parlors are well run and donate millions to charity, McKee said the losses and low profits raise concerns about illegal cash-skimming and other misdealing among some parlors in the cash-only industry.

McKee said the Revenue Department also has concerns about parlors that show low income from pull-tabs, considered to be a lucrative game.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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