Alexandria special bingo prosecutor Edward J. White told a Virginia Senate committee tonight that bingo has become a statewide gambling operation that is "impossible to police.
"What we are trying to do is to find a way to administer gambling," White said. "You have tried to find a way to regulate it since 1975 and you have not succeeded yet. It will defeat you again and again."
White urged the committee, which is trying to rewrite the state's bingo laws to toughen the provisions of a bill already passed by the House of Delegates.
He told the committee it should limit bingo games at any one location to two times a week, outlaw "instant" bingo and clarify penalties to ensure that individuals who violate the law are subject to prison sentences.
Instant bingo is a game in which players purchase a card and immediately determine from symbols on it whether they have won a prize. Organizations that sponsor bingo games fought successfully to preserve instant bingo in the House bill, but White strongly urged its elimination.
"There is no way in the world you can account for instant bingo proceeds," he said. "You might as well let them run a crap game." He said it would be easier for the state to regulate slot machines than instant bingo.
Throughout his testimony, White referred to bingo scandals in Alexandria, where six gambling indictments have been handed down in connection with bingo operation.
Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig has been acquitted of charges that he accepted bribes and profited from gambling in two cases tried by White. Cowhig ahs agreed to resign in exchange for White's promise to drop another charge against him.
"Alexandria is not that big a city and we are running $4 million a year in bingo games," White said. "I think that's it. I don't think we really know."
White said he thinks the problems in Alexandria exist elsewhere in the state. "Somehow the world has gotten my phone number and I have heard from people in Norfolk, Richmond" and elsewhere, he said.
The special prosecutor warned the committee that local government enforcement of bingo laws is complex and costly. "If the attorney general of Virginia had not given me two state police auditors, I wouldn't have known up from down," he said.
In a meeting with Del. Ralph L.Axselle (D-Henrico), chief patron of the bingo bill, White said that alleged bribes paid to Cowhig showed up in the annual report on bingo games filed in Alexandria by the Montessori School of Alexandria Inc.
The financial report says it "does not include $8,800 of payments held out for Mr. William Cowhig in 1978 as testified to by Mr. Dirgham Salahi [director of the school] in Circuit Court. The payments were made from bingo proceeds prior to enactment of (a) bingo tax. Mr. Cowhig was acquitted of bribery charges in the above case."