Charities ask federal court to stop Brown's e-bingo seizure

Chris Amico Jun. 3, 2008, 6:43pm

Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)--Two Sacramento-based charities that rely on video bingo for a large chunk of their funding are asking a federal court to halt California Attorney General Jerry Brown's plans to confiscate those machines.

The plaintiffs in the case--United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Sacramento, WIND Youth Services, and gaming manufacturer Video Gaming Technologies--also filed a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of a blind man and a woman suffering from partial paralysis.

The California Bureau of Gambling Control, which is part of the attorney general's office, sent out letters to video bingo operators last month giving them 30 days to dump the machines, saying they violate state law. That deadline is Friday.

"This will be a substantial hit to our overall revenue," Doug Bergman, president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, told Legal Newsline in a telephone interview.

Under Brown's interpretation of the law, which allows charities to use bingo for fund raising, the game must be played on paper.

Regulators "see these machines and they think they look like slot machines, they think that they are," Ravi Mehta, an attorney representing the two non-profits, told Legal Newsline.

Indeed, some of the machines have all the outward appearance of a digital slot machine, including animated spinning wheels, where cherries line up to show a winning card. But Mehta said the underlying game is unchanged.

"The spinning wheels, or the graphics that appear, are nothing more than a graphic interpretation of what happens on the card," he said. "They don't change the underlying game one iota. It's just entertainment."

For UCP, electronic bingo represents 85 percent of the funding for one of its most popular projects, a horse-therapy program, called Saddle Pals.

About 60 children with developmental disorders are in the program, Bergman said. The group owns 12 horses and three acres, and must pay for trainers and veterinarians. In the first half of this year, bingo has netted $340,000 for Saddle Pals.

The group runs paper bingo games, too, Bergman said, but the old fashioned version of the game doesn't bring in nearly as much.

"If we lose the e-bingo machines, I would venture to guess we would have to close our bingo hall operations all together," Bergman said.

"Paper bingo barely covers expenses. There's more labor involved in running a paper game versus an electronic game. People can go play those without assistance of management or hired labor," he added.

UCP operates 75 bingo machines, all of which are under threat of seizure, Bergman said.

"We've had bingo for over 15 years," Bergman said. "We just continued to build year after year, and this is our main revenue."

The machines have been incredibly popular, say those who run them, and they've been a boon to charities. Some groups get half their funding from bingo.

Abraham Arredondo, a Brown spokesman, said the attorney general would oppose the motion, but couldn't offer any further details Tuesday afternoon. "We try to avoid having the enforcement of state laws enjoined," he said.

Mehta told Legal Newsline the state has until 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday to deliver a response to the court, but Arredondo couldn't confirm that.

The attorney general's spokesman said between 200 and 400 machines at 15 sites are subject to seizure on Friday.

"We'd been attempting to work with the attorney general's office to see if we can come to some kind of resolution or at least have them stand down until we came to some kind of resolution," Mehta said.

"With the deadline this Friday, our clients felt we didn't have luxury of waiting for a response."

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