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Verdict in the cards today in bingo trial

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Six women charged with violating state gambling laws provided a running commentary of the testimony in their trial Tuesday as they huddled in a corner of the courtroom.

"This is ridiculous. This is absolutely ridiculous," whispered Paula Gonyer, who was arrested in September with her co-workers in a Sheriff's Office raid of the County Line bingo hall in Tarpon Springs.

The six women were running a high-speed form of bingo called "Quarters Up," which law enforcement officials say amounts to gambling. They and seven other workers from County Line and South Belcher Bingo in Largo were arrested the same week.

Under Florida law, commercial halls can run bingo games, but the prizes must be predetermined.

The problem with Quarters Up games, law enforcement officials say, is that players pay 50 cents to play but have to ante up a quarter after every third number is called. The pot grows until someone gets "bingo," or five numbers in a row on their card.

"The size of the pot depends on the number of players and the number of calls that have to be made before someone wins," said William Holmes, a forensic gaming expert and former FBI agent who testified for the state.

Jurors are expected today to make their decision, which hinges on whether they believe the prize in Quarters Up is predetermined.

Violating state gambling laws is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. But because none of the women charged have criminal records, they probably would receive probation.

They rejected a plea bargain of two years' probation offered by the state attorney's office early Tuesday.

"We didn't plea because we're not guilty," said Rose Marie Penna, 59.

Detective Russell Dunning of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office testified that he saw Penna and the five other defendants, who range in age from 30 to 59, running the Quarters Up game during an undercover investigation in May 1995. The 13-year veteran entered the County Line bingo hall wearing a listening device as another officer videotaped activity in the hall from a surveillance van in the parking lot.

The defendants, who worked the games for tips rather than a wage, are Penna, Gonyer and Elizabeth Schaare of New Port Richey, Peggy Dees of Pinellas Park, and Catherine Johnston and Karen Galvin of Hudson.

Four bingo defendants have yet to stand trial. Three are participating in the court's pretrial intervention program. If they complete that, they will avoid a trial.