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Jackpots in bingo may be limited to three a night

Like bingo addicts who just can't stop playing the game, county officials are trying their luck again at an ordinance to regulate the bingo industry.

"We probably are reinventing the wheel for the third time, but hopefully we're going to come up with a different design," County Commissioner Bob Stewart joked after a special bingo committee met Wednesday.

Troubled by commercial bingo operators who have turned the game into a multimillion-dollar industry, the commission has been debating for years how to monitor bingo halls more closely.

Last year the commission adopted an ordinance that would have limited bingo halls to two nights per week. But a judge swept the measure off the booksby ruling that it was deficient on a technicality.

Last month the ordinance came before the commission again, but this time it failed on a 3-2 vote, as eight busloads of bingo lovers crammed into the County Courthouse to protest.

Given that history, no one was predicting a grand consensus when Stewart convened a meeting Wednesday with representatives of the commercial bingo halls and charities that benefit from the game.

However, the committee did agree on some basic points of a new ordinance. Under a proposal they began to loosely draw up, bingo halls would be allowed to offer no more than three jackpots a night. State law already limits the jackpots to $250.

Jerry Connor of the Deaf Service Center, a charity that holds bingo games at its facility, said the provision would help him. Now his center gives out up to six $250 jackpots per night. Under the new proposal, he would give out three fewer jackpots, saving $750.

Besides, some commercial operators give out nine or 12 jackpots per night, he said, and he can't compete.

Commercial hall official Jeff Lafkowitz said he could live with the three-jackpot restriction, although he wasn't pushing for it: "I think the only people who would suffer under that scenario are the bingo players."

But Stewart was pleased with the agreement on the issue. "To me that's a significant concession on the part of the commercial operators."

Of course, the agreement could all change once the proposal goes back to the County Commission.

Stewart said the committee would later discuss whether to limit the number of nights bingo can be played at any location.

The committee was unable to reach agreement on whether to require a license fee for all bingo operators, and if so, how much it should be. Members also discussed whether all operators should be required to keep financial records of their bingo operations, and keep them open for inspection.

The committee will continue meeting and try to submit a proposed ordinance to the County Commission next month.

_ Times staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at 445-4174 or at kruegersptimes.com by e-mail.

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