The Prince George's County Council unanimously approved legislation yesterday designed to ban operation of a proposed 1,500-seat "superbingo" hall in the Eastover Shopping Center near the District line.
The issue had stirred more citizen interest, council members said, than anything that has been on their agenda since they voted more than a year ago to preserve a tax break for the Capital Centre.
The legislation limits the largest prize a bingo enterprise can offer to $1,000 and the nightly prize limit to $3,500. The bill also limits to three the number of game nights a week at one location and prohibits the leasing of commercial premises for bingo sponsored by charity groups.
Gerard T. McDonough, the Eastover bingo lawyer, said the vote came as no surprise. "With the political muscle of the groups on the other side, it would difficult for any politician to go against them," said McDonough, a former County Council chairman.
The bill now goes to County Executive Parris Glendening, who is expected to sign it, according to aide Tim Ayers.
Council members voted to ban large-scale bingo after hearing yesterday from a parade of citizens who said such an enterprise would hurt nonprofit groups whose smaller charity bingos support a number of community programs.
Following the 9-to-0 vote, some members also said they were concerned about outside investors who stood to profit from the venture by subleasing a renovated J.C. Penney's store to a few charities.
The primary investors in the proposed Eastover bingo operation are two Philadelphia vending-machine operators who have paid organized crime figures to do business there.
"I've always felt uneasy about that type of element coming into the community," said council member Frank Casula, who had earlier raised questions about the corporation and individuals behind the Eastover proposal.
The investors, Stanley Bear and Joseph Greenstone, were not on hand yesterday, but Claude (Bud) Humbert II, a Waldorf Jaycee who is president of their corporation and slated to run the operation, was.
Humbert said he stood to lose $60,000 of his own money from the council's action. Had he not received county building and use and occupancy permits, he said, he would never have proceeded with the project.
"All I did was follow the letter of the law," he said. "This investment was made because Prince George's County allowed me to make this investment."
Council members Sue Mills and Floyd Wilson, while supporting the legislation, said they were concerned that yesterday's action could leave the county government liable to repay Eastover's investors .
Mills said she voted with "my heart, not my head," because she received some 300 letters and 80 phone calls running 90 percent in favor of banning large-scale bingo.
But other council members, in casting their votes, said they were more concerned about the impact that superbingo, offering large prizes several nights a week, would have on local charities.
"This legislation deals with, and affects, the very fiber of our nonprofit organizations," said Council Chairman William B. Amonett.
That was the message sent by 11 speakers who testified before the vote. Among them were volunteer firefighters, parish priests, a past president of a Hyattsville synagogue and representatives of fraternal organizations.
"The very existence of our synagogue is at stake," said Robert Goldman, past president of Beth Torah Congregation.