Charity organizations, volunteer fire departments, churches, private schools and other groups that have relied extensively on gambling events for fund-raising could face new restrictions soon, including limits on the number of times they can operate the events each week in Prince George's County.

After nearly six months of debate, the County Council agreed yesterday in a preliminary vote to limit events to twice a week, raise the event fee from $50 to $100 to pay for additional inspectors and set hours during which the organizations can operate the games.

The council will have to hold a public hearing and take further votes before the new restrictions become law. But even the preliminary vote drew immediate criticism from organization leaders who said the restrictions on the number of times they can operate the games each week would severely hamper their fund-raising abilities.

The so-called Las Vegas nights -- often featuring roulette wheels, card games and volunteer dealers dressed in professional-looking white shirts and bow ties -- have netted some organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The money has been used to build sanctuaries, buy fire equipment and provide wheelchairs for the handicapped.

"If you reduce these proceeds, who do you hurt?" asked William Hunter, a member of the Crescent Cities Jaycees, which in past years has raised $1 million from gambling nights. "There is only so much you can do with {money raised from} bake sales."

But council member F. Kirwan Wineland, who had proposed that the number of events be restricted to twice a month, said the measure would discourage professional gamblers from infiltrating charities.

"We struck a good compromise that protects the interests of volunteer organizations, but dealt with the awful specter that was looming over us of outside organizations coming in to exploit us," Wineland said.

Additional restrictions agreed on by the council include requiring two years' residency in the county before an organization could apply for a permit, identification directors, elimination of cash advances on credit cards and cash betting. Gamblers could write checks of up to $200 and tipping would be illegal.

Organization members could not be compensated for working at the events and could volunteer for no more than two groups. Organizations that earn more than $50,000 from the events would be required to file financial reports quarterly.

Violators could face a $1,000 criminal penalty and six months in jail and a $5,000 civil penalty and loss of their license for three years.