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Battle over California electronic bingo

26 March 2008

SACRAMENTO, California -- As reported by the San Diego Union Tribune: "In a dispute that has been quietly simmering for months, Indian casinos and charities are about to square off over the future of electronic bingo in California.

"Charities and nonprofit organizations have been operating hundreds of legally questionable electronic bingo machines in Sacramento County, and reportedly in locations scattered across the state, for at least several years.

"...The wealthy United Auburn band of suburban Sacramento has put the Schwarzenegger administration on notice that it believes the bingo machines violate a clause in its gambling agreement that guaranteed a monopoly on electronic gaming devices. Such a breach would permit the tribe to suspend the $33 million it pays annually to the state.

"Charities that have come to depend on income from the machines have taken their plight to allies in the Legislature, seeking a compromise that would sustain their bingo revenue.

"...'All I know is we've got homeless kids and this is a big part of our budget,' said John Poswall, a board member of WIND Youth Services of Sacramento.

"Poswall persuaded Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat who will soon take over as the Senate's new leader, to introduce legislation on his charity's behalf.

"Although the bill – SB 1626 – has not yet been fleshed out, an aide to Steinberg said it will be narrowly drafted to preserve charities' bingo income.

"...Since 1976, state law has given cities and counties the discretion to authorize bingo for charities, mobile-home park associations and senior citizens' groups as long as the proceeds are used only for charitable purposes.

"But the game played in 1976 used paper cards with random numbers scattered under each of the letters that spell bingo.

"Questions about the legality of electronic versions of the game soon followed. In a series of legal opinions and advisories dating to 1984, the state Attorney General's Office has concluded that bingo requires paper cards and that electronic versions are illegal in California's nontribal areas..."

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