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Judge rules for charity bingo

6 June 2008

SACRAMENTO, California -- (PRESS RELEASE) -- A federal judge today enjoined the California Attorney General's office from seizing electronic bingo aids that many charities rely on to stay in existence.

Federal Judge John A. Mendez granted an emergency request for an injunction filed by United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Sacramento, WIND Youth Services, Video Gaming Technologies, Inc. and two individuals with disabilities. In addition to arguing that electronic bingo aids are legal under state law, the injunction request also claimed that banning the aids conflicts with the Americans with Disabilities Act because the technology allows people with disabilities to overcome barriers they face if playing strictly on paper.

"We're extremely pleased by Judge Mendez's thoughtful decision. This ruling maintains the status quo and allows the charities to continue with their critically important fundraising functions to benefit their individual causes. It's a great day for charities, but it's an especially great day for the millions of Californians who depend on charities to lead fulfilling, independent lives," said Ravi Mehta, executive director of the California Charity Bingo Association (CCBA), which represents many of the charities that would be hurt by the state's action. Mehta also belongs to the legal team that filed the injunction request.

By granting the injunction, Judge Mendez allows charity bingo parlors to continue operating until a court hearing is set to hear arguments and render a final, permanent decision.

Lawyers representing the state Department of Justice's Bureau of Gambling Control had argued that the electronic aids to bingo are illegal slot machines. The state claims that the booklets of paper bingo cards used with the electronic bingo aids do not properly fit their legal requirement for the use of "cards" in bingo games. The Judge disagreed and said he did not believe they were slot machines. Agents intended to follow through on cease and desist orders issued to charity bingo parlors last month by seizing electronic bingo aids starting Friday.

The use of technology maintains the underlying game of bingo and the manner in which it is played, with the only difference being that the bingo card is an electronic card as opposed to a paper card. Each and every other component of the underlying game of bingo played on an electronic bingo aid is identical to the game played strictly on paper. Players must still compete against one another instead of against a machine to match winning bingo combinations. The charities hand out paper booklets with printed bingo combinations that players use for reference, which is functional and in keeping with state law.

In requesting the injunction, attorneys for the plaintiffs successfully argued that the state's banning electronic bingo aids would amount to an unconstitutional seizure of private property and discrimination against persons with disabilities, and would eviscerate a major source of charity funding.

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