Thursday, March 07, 2002

Panel OKs more zing in bingo

Charity-gaming bill eases rules

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — A bill meant to give Kentucky's bingo halls an infusion of new players by modernizing and expanding the games was approved Wednesday by a House committee.

        To make charitable gaming more attractive to people lured by riverboat casinos on the state's border, the bill would allow higher cash prizes at bingo games. Prize limits on pull-tab cards would be eliminated.

        The bill would also allow a new concept — combined bingo games linking players across the state through an electronic hookup. The state would run the combined games, which would offer prizes reaching $50,000.

        Bingo halls also could run more bingo games each week.

        The bill cleared the Licensing and Occupations Committee with little criticism and moved on to the full House.

        Ray Franklin, commissioner of the state Department of Charitable Gaming, said the bill is meant to enhance bingo and other charitable gaming in the face of competition.

        Mr Franklin said charitable gaming is a vital revenue source, generating $48 million for charities last year. Nearly 800 groups have state charitable-gaming licenses. The money through charitable gaming helps pay tuition for thousands of students, and helps dozens of volunteer fire departments buy equipment and attend training sessions, he said.

        Mr. Franklin said that revenue source is threatened unless the state takes action to re-energize charitable gaming.

        Some of Kentucky's bingo halls also have been hurt by the higher prizes offered in neighboring states, he said.

        Mr. Franklin said bingo halls are especially having trouble attracting younger people. “The patrons are graying and aging,” he said.

        The bill's supporters hope the combined bingo games, with the big prizes, could get more people into the halls.

        Higher prizes proposed for traditional bingo games also are seen as an incentive to fill bingo halls.

        Current law limits bingo prizes to $5,000 per session. The bill would eventually raise that limit to $7,500. Prizes for single pull-tab tickets are now limited to $599. The bill would eliminate that cap.

        The bill also would raise noncash prizes for children under 18 from $10 to $100. Minors can play bingo when accompanied by parents.

        Also, bingo facilities could hold up to 20 sessions per week. Bingo halls in larger cities now are limited to 18 sessions weekly. Halls in smaller towns are restricted to eight sessions weekly.

        Rep. Paul Marcotte, R-Union, raised concerns about the higher number of bingo sessions. “This looks like big-time gambling to me,” he said.

        Mr. Franklin responded that bingo is strictly regulated.

        The bill also would set up a seven-member Charitable Gaming Regulatory Commission to oversee bingo and other charitable gaming.

        Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, said charitable gaming is important, but said it won't bring in tax revenue. Mr. Draud put in a plug for another bill allowing Kentucky's racetracks to operate slot machines, which he said would generate significant revenue for the state.


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