Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. last night called the city's $2 million-per-year bingo industry "a cancer that doesn't end," and said the legal form of gambling most be controlled.

Nevertheless, Beatley joined his six City Council colleagues last night in unanimously approving for another year five permits for nonprofit organizations to conduct bingo games in Alexandria.

Beatley said the continued success of bingo in Alexandria threatens to turn the city into "another Las Vegas . . . or Atlantic City. We've got to get it back in size to where it belongs -- which is small."

Speaking in an unusually emotional voice, Beatley called for consideration by the council of unspecified ways to control and limit the controversial game. The scandals connected to bingo last year might be "only the tip of the iceberg," he said.

Council members James P. Moran Jr. then asked the city attorney to explore the possibility of imposing a graduated tax on bingo proceeds as a way of controlling the size of the game.

In February, William L. Cowhig resigned as city prosecutor after being acquitted in two trials of bribery and illegal gambling charges connected to bingo. Five other men were convicted of illegal gambling involving the game, which is played exclusively with cash.

Beatley, who was inaugurated last July, said last night the city's bingo scandal "had a lot to do with my running" in last spring's election against the incumbent mayor, Frank E. Mann.

Mann had supported Cowhig after the prosecutor was indicted on a charge of asking for and receiving $32,000 in bribes from the operator the bingo game run by the Montessori School of Alexandria Inc.

In his remarks, Beatley did not single the school out for criticism, although he said the school was by far the most successful bingo operator in the city, grossing $1.9 million of the $2.3 million taken in by bingo operators during the 12 months that ended in October.

Beatley said bingo "Is really a way of funding an alternative (private) school system . . . maybe someone will suggest financing local governments in this way.

The Montessori school, which has previously been criticized by some council members for its bookkeeping procedures, this year was found to be in compliance with new state auditing practices, according to city officials. Bingo sponsors, including the school, say they need the proceeds to continue their educational and charitable work.