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Drinking, gambling are poor mix, county knows

For years, the big event in a town where I once lived was the annual Junior Livestock Auction, the culmination of the annual county fair.

Kids from the third grade and older would spend their entire year raising a steer, a hog, a goat, or a pen of rabbits or chickens in hopes they could get their animal into the auction ring. No wonder. Business people eager for good publicity took less than 20 minutes to bid up to $35,000 for the top steer. A pen of chickens might get $3,000. All told, the top winners could rake in more than $300,000 for their efforts.

It was _ and is _ a wonderful incentive for youngsters who plan to be ranchers or farmers to learn about animal husbandry at an early age. Most of them used their money to go to college. Several have become successful in agribusiness, and some have become veterinarians.

One year in the early 1980s, one of the grown-ups who worked on the auction had a bright idea: Why don't we have a party before the auction to get everyone in a bidding mood? Barbecue and beans. A country and western band. Some contests _ my own favorite was the Moseying Contest, where the first person to mosey on across the finish line was the loser.

The big finale would come with pretty young girls in cut-off jeans escorting the potential bidders to their front-row seats in the auction arena.

Then someone had another idea: Why don't we serve the bidders free drinks during the party?

Needless to say, the bidding set new records that night.

That record was exceeded only by the number of people who quietly reneged on their bids the following day.

Rumors flew about overgenerous business bidders who had been demoted and private individuals who had endangered their marriages over the spending that night.

The following year, the hospitality tent was bone dry.

I thought of the auction this week when I received a letter from a reader who was upset about the Pasco County bingo ordinance. The writer said that the county was making bingo virtually impossible for small organizations because it required operators to "have a separate room for it."

A separate room? In my mind, that meant anyone who wanted to hold bingo games had to set aside a special room in a building just for the games. No potluck dinners, no dances, no pitching pennies, no lectures on "The hero as ontological metaphor in the works of Ralph Ellison and Richard Baldwin." The room would be off limits except to bingo players.

What a waste of space, I thought. The whole idea sounded so silly I had to check it out.

Sure enough, there was an explanation.

The bingo sponsors don't have to have a separate room for bingo at all. They simply cannot serve alcoholic beverages in the same room where bingo is being played. If the sponsors want to open the bar, they have to close down the bingo. If they want to play bingo, they have to close down the bar.

This isn't a state law. State statutes don't address alcohol in the same room with bingo, and state officials couldn't dig up a law that would forbid it.

It's part of the local ordinance, and it's a darned good part, too.

The obvious is that people who drink too much tend to spend too much. In a community such as ours, where many bingo players are on limited, fixed incomes, that can be dangerous. The provision was placed in the ordinance at the request of people who had learned through bad experience that gambling and drinking don't mix.

A less obvious reason was called to my attention by a state official.

When people drink, she said, they often get argumentative. If their faculties are blurred by alcohol, they may miss _ or misunderstand _ a number when it's called. When the shout of a victorious player rings out, they suddenly snap to and realize they might have been the winner two numbers ago. And then the fight begins.

Some people may groan that the alcohol/bingo ordinance is government overregulation. They bemoan the lost revenue from the bar in the bingo room.

The truth is, when it comes to gambling and drinking, some people ought to be overregulated. They can't control themselves and they need some help.

Instead of griping about Pasco's more restrictive ordinance, they should be thankful that in this instance, someone is looking out for people who can't _ or won't _ look out for themselves.

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