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Texas Bingo Hall Operators Cheating Charities

In the United States many churches and charities depend on funding from bingo games. In Texas charitable bingo is a big business generating about $700 million annually. The games are allowed because some of the proceeds are supposed to go to charities. Unfortunately because of a lack of state oversight very little of that money actually ends up in the hands of nonprofits. Percy Spence is the commander for the Randolph Area, Chapter 17, of the Disabled American Veterans. About two years ago the organization signed an agreement with a San Antonio bingo hall hoping to make money.

Instead of making money the DAV chapter went bankrupt. At the time Spence questioned his leadership skills. Spence told reporters that at the time it was “Very embarrassing, first of all. Lot of tears at night. How did I let this happen?” After eleven months the DAV chapter had to give up their bingo license. Spence stated “You can get in debt real quick. And this is the lottery commission and they know you’re out there to make money. But if the commanders or the people in charge of these 501(c)(3)’s are not smart with the business, it can bankrupt you right quick.”

Percy said the bingo hall they were working with was making hundreds of thousands but when it came to the chapter to get their cut they had barely made enough money to cover their taxes. Trouble Shooter Mireya Villarreal asked Percy “When you started to look at the numbers, where was the money going.” Percy replied “It’s very hard to tell. The expenses were more than what we were bringing in, basically.” Spence’s story is not uncommon in Texas. Villarreal has been reviewing state records that document the amount made by bingo halls and how much is actually going to nonprofits.

In 2010 bingo brought in $700 million in Texas but after prizes, salaries and fees were paid charities received less than $34 million, less than 5%. Garcia Properties, Inc. operates three bingo halls in the San Antonio area. Four nonprofits work out of the Callaghan Bingo hall. Last year Callaghan Bingo grossed $3.75 million but only $11,449 was given to charities. Television reporters tried to talk with the hall’s owners but were rebuffed. Finally the company’s CEO, Peter Garcia, told reporters that expenses take most of their profits. He also said that if the charities don’t like the way things are done they should take their business elsewhere.

The flap has attracted the attention of some state legislator who want more oversight over charity games and the way funds are distributed. Hopefully they will take action and operators like Garcia will be forced to take their operations elsewhere.