The Dark Side of Charity Bingo

For years bingo games and casino nights have funded a variety of charitable causes. In fact, Americans spend over $10 billion dollars annually at charity sponsored bingo and casino games. But out of all that money only 10% actually makes it to the people that really need help. Retired Army Lt. Col. Chuck Luce became executive director of the South Carolina Association for Retarded Citizens in 1990. Luce was confident that the organization’s high stakes bingo games would continue to adequately fund the group’s operations. Among the people that would benefit from the advocacy programs was Luce’s son Steve who has Down’s syndrome.

Two weeks after Luce became director he got the shock of his life when he picked up the local paper and found out that promoters associated with the group’s games had been arrested for skimming money from the charity. After the thieves were thrown out the group tried to run the games on their own but didn’t have much success. Luce said “We were so naïve. We kept thinking that the revenues from bingo would come up to what we expected.” Luce learned the hard way that only a fraction of the money generated from the games actually went to the needy.

Charitable gambling remains popular in the United States despite the many scandals. Americans spend $10 billion every year at more than 75,000 bingo and casino games sponsored by local charities. The $10 billion is over half the value of gaming chips sold in Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined. The amount of money spent at casinos has grown by about 10% annually since the 1980’s. Charity gambling revenues have grown by 15% per year during the same period. Eugene Martin Christiansen, president of Christiansen/Cummings Associates, a New York City gaming consultant, said charities have turned to gambling to compensate for reduced dwindling federal aid and private donations. Charity gambling is legal in every state except Arkansas, Hawaii, Tennessee and Utah.

Statistics show that on the average, charities keep only 10% of the money generated from gambling. A study by the National Association of Fundraising Ticket Manufacturers showed that in the best of circumstances charities kept 35% of the revenues generated by gambling. To make matters even worse some professional players show up at local casino nights and cheat. Police in Hebron Indiana told four blackjack players to leave town after they were suspected of palming and marking cards. Criminal organizations have infiltrated the charity gaming industry and skim millions annually. Law enforcement officials say that charities need to do a better job of protecting themselves from crooks and criminals. Watchdog groups say that, ideally, 50% of the money generated by bingo and other games should go to the charity.

Charity internet bingo games do not have the same problems because cheating is almost impossible at internet bingo sites. Most operators have software in place to detect cheating and the industry in Europe is closely regulated.