The Virginia Senate passed tough restrictions on bingo activities today despite complaints that the bill would punish the rest of the state for the sins of Northern Virginia.
"This is a classic, bureaucratic overreaction to the situation in Alexandria," Sen. Elmon T. Gray (D-Sussex) protested as he and other senators tried unsuccessfully to eliminate a provision in the bill banning so-called instant bingo.
The move for new bingo restrictions has been fueled during the past year by gambling convictions in connection with large bingo operations in Alexandria and Fairfax County. William L. Cowhig recently resigned as Alexandria's commonwealth's attorney in exchange for an agreement by the city's special bingo prosecutor, Edward J. White, to drop a bingo violation charge against him.
An overwhelming majority of the General Assembly has been willing to tighten the legally porous provisions of the state's current bingo law, and the Senate today approved a heavily amended bill already passed by the House of Delegates 36 to 3.
The prohibition of instant bingo added by the Senate barely passed, however, 21 to 18. Players of instant bingo purchase small cards and immediately determine from symbols on them whether they have won a prize. The cards are sold as an added feature at regular bingo games.
Opponents of instant bingo, led by Sens. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria) and Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), contended that it is a gambling device that is wide open to abuse.
"There are all kinds of things you can do to instant bingo to carry out fraud and thievery," Brault said."You sell these cards out of an open box and it is very easy to pull out the cards that carry a prize or just put away the box when you have sold half the cards with no winners and open a new box."
Mitchell said, "Istant bingo bears no relationship to regular bingo. It is like any other casino game. You might as well legalize slot machines or roulette."
Nevertheless, Sen. A. Joe Canada (R-Virginia Beach) complained, "This is a great example of one area of the state trying to tell the rest of us what to do."
Sen. William E. Fears (D-Accomac) said, "They have a big population group up there in Northern Virginia and a lot of clever boys that know how to make some money out of this thing, but please leave the little fire companies and rescue squads on the Eastern Shore alone."