Leader Blues

Monday, July 16, 2007

TOP STORY >>Charitable bingo legal on July 31

Leader staff writer

Charitable bingo becomes legal July 31, but plans to tax bingo cards may swallow most of the charity groups’ income in the area.

State rules call for an excise tax of one penny on every bingo face, which is one standard game grid, which could eat into a group’s profits. Most bingo cards contain a number of bingo faces. A box of bingo cards with 9,000 bingo faces, normally cost about $25, but the tax on that box will be $90, increasing the box price to $115. There’s also an additional 10 percent tax on the sale of all other bingo related items. Non-profit organizations can sponsor bingo and raffle events only if the organization has applied for a license from the state.

Of the 92 statewide applicants to date, seven are from the local area. They are the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge in Sherwood, the Amvets Post in El Paso, Jacksonville Knights in Cabot, the King’s Outreach of Arkansas in Cabot, the American Legion Post in Lonoke and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.

The state started accepting applicants after voters in November 2006 approved, by 69 percent, a constitutional amendment to allow charitable bingo games and raffles. Between November and now, the state has been fine-tuning the rules, regulations and taxing of the games.

The Moose Lodge in Sherwood has also been getting ready since November, adding a 100-vehicle parking lot in back of their facility at a cost of $250,000, and redoing the bingo room.

“We’re not here to run bingo,” said Bob Douglas, the lodge’s administrator. “It’s just a sideline, but it will generate money for us to do things in the community.”

How much money?

“That’s a crap shoot,” Douglas said. “It depends how many other groups are offering bingo on the same nights we are.”
By law, nonprofit organizations may only offer bingo two nights a week and only five hours a night. “That was done to help keep the commercial people out,” Douglas said, adding that the Moose Lodge will offer bingo on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. We’ll play 30 to 35 sessions a night,” he said.

The Michael Ray VFW Post in Jacksonville plans to have their bingo games on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons.
“We are getting calls every day from people wanting to know when we are starting,” said Don Reynolds, the post commander. “Bingo used to be a big to-do, but we don’t know for sure what it’ll do now.” Many years ago the VFW Post sponsored bingo when it was illegal, and most people looked the other way when nonprofit groups held the bingo games.

“We got busted and officials confiscated and destroyed all of our bingo equipment,” Reynolds said. “It was not one of our finer moments.” Arkansas Bingo Supplies in Sherwood, one of four licensed distributors in the state, is already close to selling a million bingo faces. “We haven’t sold that many yet,” said John Watson, who owns the company along with his father and brother-in-law, “but we’ve had to dip into our reserves, so we’ve had to re-order to make sure we have enough on hand at all times.”

Watson said bingo players don’t usually play just one card or face. “They play five to 50 at a time. Charities will be going through a lot of paper,” he said. “That means that tax will cut into the charities’ profit line,” Watson said, adding that he hopes the state will lessen the tax.

“It’s a learning process for everyone right now,” he said.

Watson and his family have sold cars, operated a pawnshop and developed subdivisions in central Arkansas since the early 60s. His company not only sells cards, markers and other bingo items, but also leases bingo machines. “Some of these charitable organizations are small outfits and can’t afford to put out $1,500 or more for the machines. This helps them and us,” he said.

Douglas may not know how much money the Moose Lodge will generate, but he knows how the fraternal lodge plans to spend it.

Fifty percent will be on local charities and groups like Keep Sherwood Beautiful, police and fire department charitable activities, and the Sylvan Hills High School dance team and golf team; 25 percent will go to larger state charities like Arkansas Children’s Hospital; and 25 percent will be split between three lodge projects including the Boy Scouts, a children’s facility at Yellowstone and a Moose retired center in Florida.

The VFW has no set formula. “We are always getting requests and we help who we can,” Reynolds said. The post does help the Boy Scouts, Fishnet Mission, the VA Hospital, sheriff’s department and the state police.