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Bingo jackpot? A refund would do

(ran T, NS, S editions of B)

Every day, Gloria Terrio looks in her mailbox hoping to find a $50 refund check and every day, she comes up empty.

So do many other people who played at the Lakeview Bingo hall, 1704 Clearwater-Largo Road. They say they paid in advance for a bingo marathon that never took place. The hall unexpectedly closed a month ago, leaving its patrons confused and $50 poorer.

Police have received about 30 complaints, and the case is being investigated by the state attorney's office, said Largo police Detective Harry Rumsey.

Charles Watkins, part owner of the hall, said he and partner Frank King were waiting until the equipment was sold to give customers refunds. They spent the ticket money for daily expenses, he said.

"The hall was having cash flow problems, and we had to shut down," Watkins said. "We were by no means trying to steal money from these people. It wasn't that kind of money. It was like two or three thousand dollars, which is a drop in the bucket considering what we lost."

King could not be reached for comment, but Watkins said the equipment had been sold and the money would be refunded in the next few weeks.

"If the equipment could have been sold right away, then it wouldn't have been a problem, but you have to find someone who needs the equipment," he said. "Anyway, we knew these people from the bingo hall. We didn't want to see them lose their $50."

But Terrio has a hard time believing Watkins. The hall shut down without warning, and the whole situation seemed suspicious, she said. "It was almost as if they didn't want anybody to know where they were and who they were."

The marathon was scheduled for a Saturday, but when people showed up on Friday to play a regular session, they found a sign stating that the hall was forced to close because of a lack of money. Directions were given to mail in receipts in order to be refunded.

"I've worked with this hall before, and they've always been on the line as far as requirements for that type of establishment," Rumsey said, adding that the men violated the rules for commercial halls by even selling tickets in advance. "When I spoke to Charles Watkins about this, he was like "Okay, you've got me.'

"

Brenda Rossicoe, who spent $100 on tickets for herself and a friend, said she didn't know the hall closed until another player told her.

"I just couldn't believe it when the woman at the store told me we weren't going to be able to play," she said.

Even the employees at the hall didn't know about the closing ahead of time, Terrio said.

"One of the fellas that worked there said that they didn't even know about it until after the last evening session was over," she said. "They shouldn't have left everyone hanging."

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