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Author defends bingo measure

(ran PW, PS editions)

City Attorney Paul Marino on Tuesday night defended his bingo ordinance and how he wrote it before council members debated repealing it from city laws.

Marino wrote an ordinance for the city that the council approved unanimously last fall that has allowed commercial bingo back into Pasco County after 10 years in exile. Marino has been under fire for a month from charities and members of the council that Marino said was "unjustified."

"I feel like I'm in a courtroom every time I'm up here trying to defend our work product," Marino said.

Council members were still discussing the repeal of the bingo ordinance late Tuesday night. For the latest on what the council did, go to www.sptimes.com and click on "News Update."

In July, the council started debate on a bingo ordinance after City Manager Vince Lupo said that several businesses wanted to open a commercial bingo hall in Port Richey. After one of the meetings in which the council talked about bingo, Marino was given an ordinance by former Mayor James Carter, who now works for the Kolokithas family, owners of the local cruise-to-nowhere gambling boat.

Marino said he used the information Carter gave him _ which was a copy of Pinellas County's ordinance that allows commercial bingo _ along with several other laws to consider while drafting the city's ordinance.

A majority of council members have said they believed they were passing tighter restrictions on bingo games than the county ordinance already in effect when they finally approved the new regulations in September. What the new ordinance did, however, was allow bingo halls to hold bingo all week long _ five more days than the county ordinance allowed.

In February, the Kolokithas family spent $1-million for a building at Ridge Road and Congress Street and opened a bingo hall.

The majority of council members have said they favored repealing the ordinance. But the Kolokithas family, through their attorney, put the council on notice Tuesday that the family would sue to stay open.

Council members were faxed a copy of a letter from the Kolokithas family attorney A. Brian Albritton that asked the council to keep the ordinance that allows the bingo hall to stay open. Barring that, give them a "sunset" provision allowing the hall to stay open for a set number of years, Albritton wrote.

"If, however, the Council refuses to treat my client fairly, then it leaves us no other choice than to seek all available legal remedies," Albritton wrote.

Albritton claimed the city "encouraged" the family to buy the $1-million building it uses to hold bingo. The attorney also accused the council majority of wanting to repeal the ordinance as a personal attack at the Kolokithas family.

The first criticisms of Marino came from council member Phyllis Grae. She told Marino she was upset about his using information from Carter, and that he didn't tell the council about allowing bingo seven days a week.

"At no time did you ever say how it wasn't as restrictive," Grae said. "We were never told that."

Grae said she didn't see the hole in the ordinance but that it was Marino's job to tell her.

"Had I known that, Mr. Marino, I certainly wouldn't have voted for this," Grae said. "You were remiss in not spoon-feeding us."

Council member Dale Massad defended the ordinance, saying it allows smaller charities to compete with larger charities for bingo money.

"I believe all charities should be able to play bingo," he said. "I don't understand the uproar."

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