Every Tuesday night, and every other Saturday, Ascension Catholic Church in Bowie takes on the look and feel of Las Vegas.

About 250 people crowd into the church hall to try their luck at blackjack, poker and roulette. On a good night, the church, which completed a $1.5 million sanctuary last year, nets $3,500. On a slow night, the take is about $500.

A task force, organized by state and county officials, has studied the growth of big-money, casino gambling in Prince George's County and last night voted to recommend regulations that could virtually eliminate "Las Vegas nights" as a fund-raising tool for nonprofit organizations.

Restrictions would include limiting the number of fund-raising events involving gambling that any organization can hold to 24 times a year beginning in January, and 12 times a year after 1989.

The frequency of such casino nights now ranges from four times a year to four times a week, said Del. Richard A. Palumbo, (D-Prince George's), who is heading the task force on gambling.

The recommendations now need the approval of County Executive Parris Glendening, the County Council and the legislature.

"What has happened is there have been blatant abuses," said Palumbo.

"Individuals have been getting rich at the expense of the poor. If there was a reasonable involvement in activities from charitable organizations there would be a redistribution of the wealth," Palumbo said. "But when you start bringing in ringers, profiteers, then it is time for the state to get back into the business of regulation."

County and state officials, who set up the task force last spring, are concerned that casino gambling run by county charitable groups is being infiltrated by professionals who run the games for pay. County law allows licensed charities to run casinos as often as they like as long as no one outside the charity benefits and prizes do not exceed $1,000.

But in recent months, particularly since Baltimore County banned casino-style gambling last April, out-of-town game operators have muscled in by offering to run professional casino gambling in return for tips or reimbursement, Prince George's County officials said.

Michael Comeau, an assistant county attorney, said there is also concern that phony nonprofit groups are running some gambling and pocketing the money.

At some games, food, alcohol and cigarettes are on the house, credit cards are good for cash advances and check cashing is available.

Under the new regulations recommended by the task force, groups would be prohibited from reimbursing workers for expenses, renting or leasing gambling equipment from professional companies and holding events in buildings other than those owned by the nonprofit organizations or churches.

Also, all organizations that raise more than $50,000 a year would have to submit certified financial audits.

Free food and alcohol to patrons would be prohibited.

While the heads of some nonprofit organizations say they agree with most of the recommendations, they are concerned that restricting the frequency of casino gambling to 12 times a year would destroy one of the most effective tools they have for raising money.

Six years ago, when the Rev. Henry Januszkiewicz became the priest of Ascension Catholic Church, members were selling shrubbery to make ends meet and had no effective plan to raise money to replace the church sanctuary that burned in 1977. The casino nights, run as often as twice a week, raised $125,000 last year and are helping to pay for the new church.

"We owe $735,000, plus $5,000 for the architect," Januszkiewicz said. "Where are we going to get the money to pay for it if we are cut off?

"The fastest money is through Vegas {nights} but I'm sure we will do something like before. We could have dances every week, but compared to {the money raised} by Vegas nights, we're talking 20-to-1."