Alexandria last night became the first jurisdiction in Virginia to ban instant bingo, a controversial form of the game often linked to scandal.
The City Council approved the ban on a 6-to-1 vote, reversing the position of the previous council, which decided against a ban after an intense lobbying effort by church groups and charities that use bingo -- and the instant variation -- as a fund-raising tool.
Instant bingo's critics have compared it to slot machine gambling. Its players purchase preprinted cards, then pull off tabs revealing gambling symbols. The right combination of symbols wins up to $1,000.
State officials have said instant bingo accounts for as much as half the $50 million generated by bingo games in Virginia annually.
Last year, Alexandria's $1.2 million-a-year bingo industry was rocked by scandals involving alleged political corruption and skimming -- the practice of illegally diverting the proceeds of the game.
According to court testimony thousands of dollars in cash generated by instant bingo were skimmed from the games by professional operators running the games for charity.
Earlier this year, Alexandria prosecutor William L. Cowhig resigned after being acquitted of bribery charges in two trials involving bingo.
The Virginia General Assembly changed the law governing bingo last winter, in part because of scandals in Alexandria, Richmond, Roanoke and elsewhere. State law now leaves a ban on instant bingo to the discretion of local governments.
Last night's decision by the Alexandria council does not affect other forms of bingo.
All six council members who voted for the ban last night had pledged to do so in the election campaign last spring. The only negative vote was cast by council member Nelson E. Greene (D).
Unlike previous council sessions, where instant bingo was hotly debated, there was no discussion of the issue last night.
The council last night also gave preliminary approval to a 77-foot height limitation for new construction in the 34-acre development area around the King Street Metro station. The action, subject to final approval, means that no building in that area, at the intersection of King Street, Commonwealth Avenue and Duke Street, can be more than seven stories tall.
If enacted, new buildings will be the same height as other commercial buildings in the Old Town area.