BROOKSVILLE — A few months ago, the thought of adding an Internet gaming room to increase revenue seemed like a good idea to the leaders of one of Hernando County's oldest veterans organizations.
It was to be an instant moneymaker — a sure bet to help pull the beleaguered organization out of its financial troubles.
But two weeks ago, the operator of the 50-seat sweepstakes cafe announced that it was pulling out of Disabled American Veterans Cada Haddon Post 67 on Nancy Street, off Cortez Boulevard. Three days later, Fraternal Management Group of Florida packed up all of its equipment and left, said post vice president Ken Fagan.
"It's left us in a lurch," Fagan said. "We're at a critical financial point right now with very little revenue coming in. We don't know how much longer we can hold out. We might be gone in a couple of months."
Fagan said the reason Fraternal Management gave for the departure was because the DAV chapter's membership voted not to allow the sale of alcohol on the premises and would not lift the chapter's smoking ban. Both policies exist because many of the veterans who come to the chapter for help suffer from alcoholism and smoking-related diseases.
"We don't feel this is a place where they should be subjected to that," Post 67 commander Stephen Grecco said. "It might have made us more money if we did allow it, but we have to think of the veterans we serve."
The sweepstakes cafe, which opened in December, appeared to be a more lucrative alternative to twice-a-week bingo games, which had long been the post's major source of revenue. But Fagan said that while business had slowly increased in recent weeks, revenue from the Internet cafe wasn't what Post officers had hoped it would be.
"The company never advertised it," Fagan said. "Nobody knew it was here."
Fraternal Management representative Katherine Hayes declined to speak in detail about the matter when contacted by the Times, but said as far as she knew, the company and the DAV parted on good terms.
"We respect what they do," Hayes said. "I'm sorry that there are hard feelings."
Grecco said the post's building has been put up for sale and that he and other officers are looking for a quick way to raise enough money to keep operating, at least for a while. The hope is that the 8,000-square-foot building can be sold to a buyer who might in turn lease space back to the organization so it can conduct its daily business.
"We've been here a long time and it's important that the veterans we serve know that we're going to be here," Grecco said.
Established during the early 1950s, the post assists between 800 and 900 veterans with free counseling to help them get benefits owed to them. It receives some modest revenue from a sports memorabilia framing business that recently relocated to the post.
In the past couple of years, the nonprofit organization has felt the financial pinch caused by an increase in demand for services from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, coupled with dwindling support from the community during difficult economic times. Last summer, Tropical Storm Debby brought more bad news when heavy flooding damaged the building's foundation and created large sinkholes in the parking lot that cost thousands of dollars to fix.
Fagan said the drawn-out financial strain has all but depleted the contingency fund the post maintains to assist eligible veterans during short-term emergencies with electric and utility bills, food and medicines.
"Nothing is sadder for us," he said, "than to have to turn people away that need our help."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.