The Prince George's County Attorney determined yesterday that a controversial 1,500-seat bingo hall, where charities would split the take with a private corporation, violates the law and should not be permitted to open its doors.
In response to the opinion, the county government will deny bingo licenses today to the Crescent City Jaycees and the Glassmanor Citizens Association, Eugene Lauer, director of the office that issues such licenses, said yesterday. They are two of several charities the bingo hall operators said had planned to sublease space in a former J.C. Penney's department store in the Eastover Shopping Center near the District line..
"Based on this opinion, there's no course but to deny the permits," Lauer said.
County Attorney Thomas P. Smith's ruling effectively prevents the hall from opening to bingo under present plans. But Claude (Bud) Humbert II, president of the bingo corporation that is leasing the hall, said his attorneys are studying the opinion for possible legal action. Humbert says he has spent $200,000 to remodel and furnish the bingo hall and that he has a few other ideas for its use. "It's a setback, that's all," he said.
Smith based his decision on the fact that the charities were to pay $1,150 rent nightly to the corporation, plus utilities and other expenses, from an expected nightly gross of $8,000. Under their agreement with the corporation, the charities were guaranteed $300-a-night profit. The corporation -- owned by two former Philadelphia vending machine moguls and Humbert, a regional director of the Maryland Jaycees -- stood to gain a $150,000-a-year profit.
Smith said that county laws -- stricter than the Maryland state code -- prohibit "any portion of the proceeds" of bingo from being divided with "any other person, group, partnership, association or corporation."
"It is our opinion that the applications for the permits should be denied," Smith wrote, noting that he had reviewed a legal memo prepared by the Eastover corporation lawyer and received "several phone calls from interested charitable, religious and citizens' groups."
Small charities in the county that run bingo on their own had expressed concern that competition from Eastover bingo would cripple their own fund-raising efforts.
Dan Quagliarello, grand knight of a Knights of Columbus chapter in Oxon Hill that had rejected the overtures of Eastover bingo to participate in its operation, said that the news that permits would be denied was "pretty good."
But Quagliarello, who also heads Concerned Citizens Against Super Bingos, said he expects the Eastover bingo operators to pursue other avenues. Charities and fraternal organizations plan to press for laws in the county and the state legislature to ensure their apparent victory over the hybrid commercial-charitable bingos, he said.
Gerard T. McDonough, a former County Council chairman who represents Eastover Bingo, said yesterday that Smith's opinion "is a very close call. Tom came down on the conservative side. That's natural enough. You very quickly end up in the dictionary on this type of thing."
Smith's opinion had been requested by Lauer, whose office has issued the $50 bingo permits routinely in the past to charitable organizations. There are presently 56 such bingo games licensed to operate in the county.
County Council members had also expressed deep reservations over the commercial-charity bingo, which has flourished in other locations, from Waldorf in nearby Charles County to Allentown, Pa.
Humbert, a past president of the Waldorf Jaycees, said he could rent the hall out for community events. "I've had a few people come to me, for discos, that sort of thing," he said. He allowed, however, that such a venture would not be economically "viable." Another alternative, he said, would be to turn the 20,000-square-foot bingo hall over to a single charity.
"I have a charity possibly willing to buy the whole bingo hall from me, but they don't have they money," he said. "I'd have to make them a loan."