AG again warns charities over bingo machines, yet again

Legal News Line Apr. 7, 2009, 11:44am

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)--Following a legal ruling in March, the California Attorney General's office has issued new warnings to charitable bingo parlors using casino-style electronic bingo games.

In late March, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the use of such games was illegal, following a California law that took effect on Jan. 1.

According to published reports, the attorney general's office told the bingo halls they must begin removing the "illegal gambling machines" immediately.

The law has been the subject of sharp criticism from charities who say it will have a serious impact on their ability to raise money. Charities, like the United Cerebral Palsy, have continued to operate the electronic games under an injunction, which the 9th circuit overruled.

Following the latest ruling, the group of charities who first filed for the injunction will continue its legal efforts to continue using the machines by filing "last ditch" motions with the U.S. District Court in Sacramento to block the state's efforts to shut them down.

In May of last year, Attorney General Jerry Brown sent letters giving operators 30 days to shut the machines down, which he said went against the deals the state had brokered with the tribal casinos. The move touched off a war over the machines with Brown on the side of the casinos against the charities.

Brown's critics charge his interest is largely to protect Indian Casinos, strong donors to Brown's campaign account, saying last August that "powerful special interest groups" were cutting off a source of money to disabled veterans, sick children and other in need.

Casino attorney remind the charities that laws that govern them are vastly different from the laws that govern the rest of the state. To say what is fair or legal for one, and not for another is to compare completely different legal situations, starting with federal laws that govern tribes, versus state laws that govern the charities.

According to a report by the bingo compliance manager at the Sacramento County Sheriff's Dept., charity bingo halls in Sacramento County alone raised $55 million in one fiscal year from July 2007 to July 2008. Of this, 76 percent was paid out in prizes, 16 percent went to cover bingo hall expenses, and a little over 8 percent-just under $4.6 million-went to charities.

The California Tribal Business Alliance said the meager returns to charities suggest that the usage is mostly an attempt to circumvent gambling regulations in the state. The CTBA has argued that left unchecked "you'll have casinos on every corner" of the state.

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