A report yesterday incorrectly stated that Eastover Bingo is in Forest Heights in Prince George's County. The bingo hall, which is not yet open, is in an unincorporated area next to the municipality of Forest Heights.
A 1,500-seat capacity bingo hall, expected to gross $2 million or more a year, is nearing completion in an aging Prince George's County shopping center close to the District line, backed by private investors who are using charities to make it legal.
Whether its doors will open to players is still in question.
The operation's owners -- two former vending machine moguls from Philadelphia and a regional director of the Maryland Jaycees -- say their venture can only benefit the communities surrounding the bingo hall, a former J.C. Penney's store at Eastover Shopping Center in Forest Heights.
"All I'm doing is opening up the opportunity for other organizations," said Claude (Bud) Humbert II, president of the corporation.
But others, especially officials running smaller not-for-profit games and some County Council members, question who the real winners will be.
The Eastover investors, by the owners' own conservative projections, stand to make at least $150,000 profit annually. Charitable groups that sublease the hall are guaranteed $300 a night, from a projected nightly gross of $8,000.
Churches and fraternal organizations fear the huge jackpots and other enticements Eastover may offer will cripple their bingo fund-raising efforts and thus hurt their programs.
"We think there's a tremendous amount at stake," said Dan Quagliarello, grand knight of a Knights of Columbus chapter in Oxon Hill that rejected the overtures of Eastover Bingo.
"It's not just us, but all the bingos in a three-to-five-mile radius," said Quagliarello, who also heads Concerned Citizens Against Super Bingos. "Once you allow one big bingo operation to get established, it won't be long before others are established elsewhere in the county."
Prince George's County Council members share those concerns and have asked the county attorney to study the legality of the Eastover bingo hall. Under exmination is the law under which $50 bingo permits are issued to nonprofit groups. Denial of the permits to those that want to hold games at Eastover could prevent the hall from opening.
County Council member Frank Casula told Eastover promoters recently that their project is "a sham. Let's not kid one another. We're using nonprofit groups to cover up professional bingo, and we're going to give them a piece of the pie to keep them quiet."
Casula's remarks were addressed specifically to Gerald McDonough, a former County Council chairman and an attorney who now represents the investors.
"We know what we're up against," McDonough said recently. "The churches, the volunteer fire departments. We know the powerful network they have . . . . The power of Caesar is put behind the church to enforce virtually a monopoly. Comes a time when you have to take the righteousness away from it, and look at everything on the merits . . . . "
While bingo for charity is a time-honored tradition and legal in many states, purely commercial bingo is allowed only in Nevada, on Indian reservations and in Anne Arundel County and Chesapeake Beach, Md.
In Prince George's, there are 56 small licensed bingos, all run by nonprofit groups that say their entire profit goes directly to the poor and needy or, in the case of volunteer fire companies, to buy equipment.
Unlike commercial bingo operations, charitable bingo operations do not have to pay the state's 7.5 percent amusement tax.
The Eastover bingo project comes on the heels of several gambling controversies that have flared up in Maryland, from the Eastern Shore to western parts of the state, involving electronic video poker machines, slot machines and other betting devices.
Indeed, the idea behind Eastover bingo was salvaged from the ashes of Southern Maryland's legalized slot machine era, which ended in 1968.
The prohibition against slots devastated the casino owners along Rte. 301 in Charles County. But two of them, Philadelphians Joe Greenstone and Stanley Bear, owners of the Stardust Inn, hit upon a solution:
If they converted their casino into a bingo hall and leased it to a charity, they could continue to make money without the one-armed bandits.
The idea offered both prospects for profit and the redeeming value of good works. In a sense, it meant doing well while doing good.
The Waldorf Jaycees became the Stardust's most regular tenants starting in 1975. Their bingo games two nights a week with occasional Saturday specials brought huge sums for community projects.
Among them were a $2 million special education center, a $500,000 day-care program and a $1.12 million apartment project for senior citizens.
In their most recent fiscal year, the Waldorf Jaycees bingo took in $537,208. They paid out $447,834, mostly in prizes, leaving $89,374 for community work.
The Jaycees were so successful that their leaders were invited to other localities to run charity gambling nights.
In Winchester, Va., one such benefit, for crippled children, was raided in April 1982 because any type of gambling is illegal in Virginia.
Several past presidents of the Waldorf Jaycees were arrested, including Frank Hollewa, now a vice president of Washington Gas Light Co. All charges against those Jaycees were dropped when a Winchester man who sponsored the event pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Banking on their success at the Stardust, the Philadelphia men and some Waldorf Jaycees established commercial-charitable bingo in Philadelphia, Allentown and Harrisburg, Pa. Eastover is their latest project.
In 1982, Hollewa, the Waldorf Jaycees president in 1972-73, tried unsuccessfully to get the D.C. Lottery Board to adopt liberal bingo rules that would allow commercial-charitable bingo to operate in the District. But church groups expressing fears similar to those now heard in Prince George's County prevailed.
Recently, Hollewa, 40, sold his $30,000 Eastover interest to Humbert. Hollewa is still an investor in the Philadelphia and Allentown bingo operations.
"I got in [the Eastover project] because I believed it was an opportunity to make a good investment, even though risky," Hollewa said. However, he added, "WGL does not like their employes or officers to be involved in a public controversy."
Humbert, the Waldorf Jaycees president in 1980-81, has parlayed his charitable bingo experience into a new career.
The 27-year-old former carpenter, with seven years experience as a Jaycees bingo caller, set up and managed the ventures in Allentown and Harrisburg before becoming president of Eastover Leasing Ltd. His business card carries the motto, "Building a Better Tomorrow."
Humbert explained the use of his Jaycees connection as no different from "insurance agents [who] join every organization in town to get business. I'm using what I learned in the Jaycees, not just for personal business but for the benefit of the Jaycees, too."
The major investors in all these ventures, except for Harrisburg, are the two Philadelphians, Greenstone and Bear, both 68.
Until they sold the business a year ago, they also owned S&K Amusements Inc., self-styled purveyors of "Greater Philadelphia's Finest and Most Complete Amusement Games."
Through another Philadelphian, now deceased, the two men became owners of the Stardust in 1959, in the heyday of the slots. The first year after slots became illegal, they lost $77,000 on the place, Greenstone said.
They tried to open a farmers' market, without success. They also leased space to a nightclub featuring name country music entertainers. "Then we talked to the Jaycees about bingo," Greenstone said.
The Jaycees "had no money, so I fixed it up. I get the rent, but the building still doesn't pay for itself," Greenstone said.
The Jaycees now share the building with a cocktail lounge, appliance store, barber shop, karate school and seafood carryout.
Two nights a week, the Waldorf Jaycees run bingo games for themselves and for other local charities.
Greenstone said he and Bear have opened two similar bingo halls in Philadelphia. One, in an old shopping center known as Jerry's Corner, is operated in conjunction with a veterans' ladies auxiliary and is not profitable, he said.
Erie Hall, the second one, is profitable, Greenstone said. In a former supermarket opposite a used-car lot, it is leased to charities several times a week. Hollewa is also an investor.
"They make a lot of money and we make a profit," Greenstone said.
In August 1983, Greenstone and Bear launched a similar venture in Allentown that has turned out to be profitable.
Humbert "set the whole thing up," Greenstone said, and Hollewa is an investor. The charities taking part there are the Pennsylvania Association of Songwriters, Composers and Lyricists, and a local fire company.
Last January, Humbert opened King's Hall in a former department store in Harrisburg, the state capital. Humbert said he owns 5 percent. Greenstone said his own involvement is minimal. The hall is owned by a New Jersey corporation.
The Harrisburg hall, which is subleased to a boys' hockey club and a women's service group, was so successful at first that several small area bingos suffered dramatic drops in attendance and reveues.
"All the little bingos either went out of business or together or their profits were reduced," said the Rev. Daniel J. Mahoney, who saw bingo revenue decline from $35,000 in 1983 to $17,000 this year at his Holy Name of Jesus Parish just outside Harrisburg.
The Harrisburg operation had problems with local authorities over the sale of "pull tabs," an instant paper game in which players gamble on the right combination of familiar slot machine fruits and symbols.
These so-called "Nevada Club" cards, which are routinely sold (two for $1) at the Waldorf Jaycees bingo, are illegal in Pennsylvania. Humbert said there are no plans to sell them at Eastover, but that decision will be up to the individual charities.
Of the $200,000 initial investment in Eastover, Greenstone said, he and Bear have provided $150,000. They will start realizing a profit once they have recouped their initial expense, he said, within one to three years.
The games will run four nights a week in the beginning, but the Jaycees hope to expand to seven. About 500 customers a night are expected, each gambling an average of $16.
To start with, customers will buy $8 or $14 packs of bingo boards. Other special games are to be sold on the floor for $1 each throughout the night.
As planned, the charities will each provide 10 floor workers. The Maryland Jaycees are to provide two callers and two office workers.
Of the estimated nightly gross of $8,000, prizes are expected to account for $5,000, Humbert said.
Of the rest, $1,150 represents the charity's rent payment to the investors, $300 is set aside for the charity itself, and the remainder goes into a fund to be split at the end of the month by the charities and the Maryland Jaycees.
In addition, the food concession at the snack bar will turn over 15 percent of gross sales to the corporation.
The corporation expects to receive $19,500 the first year from the concession.
The cavernous hall is largely filled now, with 250 tables that cost $60 each and 1,325 chairs at $7 apiece. The office shelves are stocked with bingo supplies. There's a new sprinkler system and emergency lighting.
Twenty television monitors sit high above the floor so players may view the bingo ball as it emerges from a mechanical mixing bowl.
"There's nothing bad with these things," Greenstone said. "Where they've worked out, they've been good for everybody. There's a million charities that do a lot of good work, [but] don't have a location to hold bingo."
Humbert said that discussions were under way with the owners of the Eastover shopping center for two years before the deal came together.
"We took what we could get," said Sonny Turlington, who manages the shopping center.
Eastover Leasing incorporated in June, with three past presidents of the Waldorf Jaycees listed as initial directors: Humbert, Hollewa and Paul S. Andrews, who is not an investor but will draw a salary, Humbert said.
After Hollewa resigned, his slot was filled by Steve Micciche, a District of Columbia policeman and the 1981-2 Jaycees president. He is not an investor.
In October, Humbert and Hollewa met with Quagliarello at a Waldorf restaurant to win his support.
Reviewing a draft lease, drawn up by the politically potent law firm of Democrat Peter O'Malley, the Oxon Hill Knights of Columbus leader and his allies said they saw large profits for the investors but little guaranteed return for their own charities.
They also disliked a 30-day cancellation clause in the lease.
To battle Eastover Bingo, they formed the Concerned Citizens group.
Humbert and his associates say they expect to compete, not with small local bingos but with commercial bingos that operate legally in Anne Arundel County and transport their customers by bus from different locales, including the District.
The local Anne Arundel churches "all cried the blues" when big bingo opened in Annapolis, president Jeffrey Goldstein said. Goldstein says he thinks Eastover Bingo will harm the Prince George's charities.
Such assertions have fueled the suspicions felt by Prince George's charities, and they have actively lobbied the County Council and their state legislators to take action.
Still, nonprofit groups that include the local Crescent City Jaycees and the Glassmanor Citizens Association are applying for the $50 bingo permits required to play at Eastover.
Before the permits are issued, the county attorney's office is reviewing the law.
"The council has indicated clearly they don't want this type of operation in the county," said Barbara Holtz, an attorney for the Prince George's County government. But whether the county can block Eastover remains uncertain.
Humbert, a 300-pounder who sports a trim beard and exudes a casual down-home friendliness, doesn't see a reason for all the fuss.
"I'm just a Charles County boy who saw an opportunity to make some money the way the Waldorf Jaycees do," he said.
"Everything I've done has been totally up front and aboveboard," he added. "I wouldn't have had problems if I hadn't been so up front . . . I'd like to open up some more [big bingo halls], but not in this area."