Northern Virginia legislators, pressing for a law that would tighten controls over the region's big, money-making bingo games, today suddenly withdrew their proposal from a State Senate vote after it came under a blistering attack from Tidewater legislators.
Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax) said he delayed the vote until Wednesday after he feared the attacks had placed the bill "in jeopardy." Brault said he was attempting to draft some amendments to overcome the attacks on the measure.
Critics of the bill today lambasted it as a "very lousy bill" that was aimed at a problem as one senator put it "up in your part of the world" and not in the rest of the state. "You may have had bad problem in one part of the state, but with this bill you'll have a worse problem in the rest of the state," said Sen. Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton).
The bill is aimed at curbing what several senators said were abuses of the current bingo law by organizations that run five-night-a week games handling thousands of dollars a year. The proposed bingo law would require an annual financial report on the bingo operation to be made under oath and audited by an official of the local government in the jurisdictions where the games are held. The current law does not require that the report be made under oath.
In addition under the bill, local governments would be empowered to regulate the frequency, hours and places where the games are held, a power the governments do not now have.
When one of the bingo measure sponsors, Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) questioned another bill that would allow private clubs to serve alcoholic drinks in a room adjacent to bingo parlors, Sen. William E. Fears (D-Accomack) cut Mitchell's questions short. "I know they got problems up in Northern Virginia, but they've always got problems up in Northern Virginia," said Fears, who lives on Virginia's rural Eastern Shore.
The drinking bill passed, 23 to 14, despite Mitchell's objection, but the bingo-regulation measure ran into new opposition, after it was strengthened in committee to include tighter controls than first proposed by Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William).
Sen. Peter K. Babalas (D-Norfolk), who introduced the initial legislation four years ago allowing charitable groups to stage bingo games, claimed the regulations would "emasculate" his bill and warned "little boys clubs are going to have go down and hire accountants" to have their books audited because of the proposal.
Citing a provision that would allow local governments to require payment of fees by large bingo game operators, Andrews charged that the bill would impose a gross receipts tax on the games. "I'm not going to tax my fine churches and my fine PTAs," he said.
Brault attempted to persuade the Senate that the problem was not small or restricted to Northern Virginia."Believe me, this is big money," he said at one point in the debate. "This isn't any little volunteer fire department that makes $200 or $300 one night a week but we are talking about. We've got a problem and we've got to address it."