Twenty-two-year-old Eva Kennedy was so happy when she was proclaimed winner of a $6,000 bingo prize that she screamed, shook, and cried with joy.
But 15 minutes later her delight turned to anguish when officials of the Annandale Boys Club, which sponsored the games, said it was all a mistake and offered Kennedy, a Stafford County mother of two, $100 as a consolation prize.
"That's when I called my lawyer," Kennedy recalled yesterday. But to date, her lawyer has been unable to collect the prize either.
A Fairfax County judge has ruled that she cannot get the prize, even if she is entitled to it, because bingo is a from of gambling. And under Virginia law, gambling debts cannot be enforced by the courts, Circuit Court Judge Burch Millsap said.
Kennedy, who had planned to use the prize to help pay off part of the $30,000 mortgage on her family's modest frame home, has not accepted Millsap's ruling. Her lawyer is appealing the ruling to the State Supreme Court, arguing that when the state legislature authorized charitable organizations to sponsor bingo games, that was a "de facto legalization" of the game.
Her claim is being resisted by lawyers for the Annandale Boys Club, who run one of the largest bingo operations in Northern Virginia. The games gross about $500,000 a year, according to county officials. The games help to sponsor the club's extensive athletic programs, which involve more than 4,000 youngsters.
"The theory is, people shouldn't gamble, and, if they do gamble, the courts shouldn't collect" their debts, said Blaine Friedlander, a lawyer for the club. He said that in all the years the club has sponsored bingo games, only three have resulted in disputes over prizes that have gone before the courts.
In every case the courts have held as Millsap did, that bingo prizes are unenforceable by court order, the lawyer said.
That's the very point that Kennedy says troubles her. "This could happen to anybody...," she said in an interview yesterday. "A lot of old people use the little money they get from social security to play bingo with and the bingo people are making promises they can't keep."
At the time of the disputed game, Sept. 11, 1977, Kennedy said she was nervous and five months pregnant.
She has claimed she won the $6,000 prize by scoring "bingo" in fewer than 54 calls in a jackpot game. She said she won after 53 calls, but was told 15 minutes after the game ended that 55 numbers had been called at the time and her prize was being withdrawn. CAPTION: Picture, Eva Kennedy of Stafford County, Va., shown with daughter, Tina is trying to sue for $6,000 bingo prize. AP