The sponsor of Washington's first major legal bingo game, who had to write I.O.U. notes to many of the winners at Saturday's event, traded barbs yesterday with the D.C. Lottery Board over who was responsible for his difficulties.
"We gave ourselves a black eye," said Joseph Webb, 33, who goes by the nickname God's Poet, which is also the name of his nonprofit organization that sponsored the games. "I'm disappointed . . . . But I do not choose to give up just because I stumbled." He said the main reason the event lost money is that Lottery Board inspectors nitpicked game operators with technical rules of play under the District's gambling law, and slowed down the sale of $1 bingo cards to players, causing a loss of revenue.
Lottery Board officials say they did not overregulate, but held the game's operator accountable to the gambling law. They said Webb lacked management experience to run a major event like the one on Saturday.
The winners of the last 24 bingo games in the day-long event are owed $12,150, and others, including bus companies that brought players from as far away as Ohio and New York, are owed several thousand more dollars, Webb said.
Although 1,500 people were expected at the event at the D.C. Armory and 1,000 players were needed to break even, only about 600 people showed up, according to Webb. The 7 1/2-hour marathon game was the first major legal bingo game licensed under the District's new gambling law.
Most of the players paid $30 apiece to play, Webb said. Because of the low turnout, there was only enough money to pay the winners of the first 33 bingo games the $6,100 they won, said Lea Adams, a spokesman for the lottery board. At that point, under the advice of lottery board officials, Webb wrote promissory notes to winners of the last 24 games, with $12,150 in prizes, Adams said.
Webb said he does not know when the winners will receive the money they won, which is to be paid by a bonding company that insured the payouts. Such a bond was a condition of the lottery board's granting the license for the event, officials said.
Bonding company representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Webb said lottery board officials "put a stranglehold" on his operation because they insisted that bingo game "runners," who sell bingo cards to players before each game, count out all proceeds in front of lottery inspectors before returning to the Armory floor to sell more bingo cards. There were not enough runners to sell cards and count the money, Webb said, so many bingo players couldn't play the games they wanted to play. That reduced the proceeds, he contended. As the confusion at the armory mounted, Webb said lottery officials relaxed their rules and expedited the sale of cards. (Lottery officials said they did not relax the rules).
"The board didn't have the insights on what a bingo game is like," Webb said. "They learned a lot Saturday night. We paid their tuition fee."
Adams said it was lottery officials at the Armory Saturday who helped Webb avert a confrontation when he ran out of money.
Webb had not thought of writing promissory notes based on the surety bond, and he complimented officials for advising him that he could, Webb and lottery board officials said. "They hurt us," Webb said. "But after they hurt us they helped us."