City Council to Approve New Regulations for Bingo Permits

If Approved, Ordinance Would Raise Maximum For Winnings, Simplify Process to Gain Permits

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The Berkeley City Council is set to approve a new ordinance regulating bingo operations in the city at their meeting tonight following changes to provisions at the state level and allegations that the city's only bingo parlor was cheating patrons and nonprofits out of funds.

The city manager's office has recommended changes to the standing bingo ordinance that are intended to simplify procedures for legitimate nonprofits to gain bingo permits at a variety of locations in the city and also prevent other organizations from posing as nonprofits to benefit from these changes.

The new ordinance proposes that an organization must have been operating as a nonprofit in the city of Berkeley for at least 12 months, must disclose its primary location and have in place written policies that formalize membership requirements in order to acquire a permit. The ordinance will also improve city staff's ability to enforce these new and previously existing state regulations.

"The whole point is to benefit charities in the Berkeley community," said city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. "It's clear (under the new ordinance) that there's a lot of accountability and greater confidence that (patrons') money is really going to the organization."

In addition to increasing accountability, changes to the ordinance will also allow nonprofits that have received bingo permits to generate money and host events without obtaining a separate permit each time, according to Clunies-Ross. She added that nonprofits can host one bingo event per week at a secondary location.

"The original ordinance did not give as much access to nonprofits who wanted to do casual events," she said. "The new one opens up the opportunity for other nonprofits to have fund-raising bingo games."

The city first began to review the existing bingo ordinance this February in order to align the city's maximum reward amount with the state's much higher limits. If the new ordinance is approved in its second reading tonight, the maximum reward will jump from $250 to $500.

During the same period, an investigation of Gilman Street Bingo on San Pablo Avenue resulted in the closing of the location after the city manager rescinded its bingo permit based on allegations of falsely supporting a nonprofit and cheating patrons out of their winnings. The parlor was closed down in July.

Since the parlor's closure, there are no locations in Berkeley that are run as full-time professional businesses.

"We don't want a professional bingo parlor - we want it to be secondary to a nonprofit organization," said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. "A full-time bingo parlour is too separated from the nonprofits it's meant to serve."

Operations on a more casual basis - such as churches hosting bingo events - are also currently nonexistent in the city.

During the first reading at the council's meeting Sept. 21, the ordinance was approved on all counts except for the section restricting permits only to games of traditional bingo.

Though the ordinance is expected to be easily adopted by the council tonight, Councilmember Darryl Moore said that last week's version could benefit from input by the affected nonprofits before approval.

"I was told that nobody (from the non-profits) was consulted and I was a little disappointed," he said. "I think it's important for the city to go back and talk to the nonprofits to get their input."


Contact Rachel Banning-Lover at [email protected]

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