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    Senate okays instant-win bingo

    By ALISA ULFERTS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Bingo parlors can add an instant-win game card to their repertoire under a bill tentatively approved by the state Senate on Monday.

    It's not commercial bingo and won't compete with the state lottery, according to state Sen. Ron Silver, the sponsor.

    "This is another, alternative way to play bingo that gives instant gratification," said Silver, D-North Miami.

    Under current law, civic, community and charitable organizations that have been active for at least three years can conduct bingo games to raise money.

    Silver's bill would allow those groups to sell instant-winner bingo tickets for $1 or less. The winning number or combination of numbers would have to be posted in advance.

    Silver said charitable groups, some of which pay commercial halls thousands of dollars a day to run games, need the instant tickets because they are losing players to other venues such as gambling cruises-to-nowhere and racetracks.

    "They're finding it very difficult to maintain the level of service they do," Silver said.

    Under state law, commercial halls exist for the sole purpose of giving charities a place to play bingo.

    The charities that contract with commercial operators to provide bingo halls and equipment agree to pay rents ranging from $500 to $4,100 a day -- fees so high that often no money is left over for the charities at the end of the day. Silver's instant bingo tickets are exempt from the jackpot's two-day-a-week and $250-maximum payout rules.

    But that doesn't mean people can buy them any time they want, Silver said. Bingo fans can only buy the instant tickets during the regular operating hours of the organization that holds the bingo games, he said.

    Instant tickets weren't the only expansion to bingo law senators approved Monday. State Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, shepherded a bill through the Senate that would let residents of elder care facilities, such as nursing homes, play bingo for money.

    Of all the groups the Legislature has approved to play bingo, "We forgot the one group that loves bingo more than anyone -- the seniors," Sebesta said.

    Mary Ellen Early, a representative from the Florida Association of Homes for the Aging, said her group has pushed for this bill because some counties were requiring nursing homes to get local bingo licenses if residents wanted to play.

    "They just play for nickels and dimes," Early said.

    Sebesta's bill would not lead to an infusion of professional bingo in the state's nursing homes, he said. Lawmakers have tried to pass this bill in past years.

    "The games would have to be played by residents and their guests," Sebesta said. Final Senate passage of the bills is expected later this week.

    House Majority Leader Mike Fasano said he didn't know whether the House would take up Silver's bill, but he said there was a good change Sebesta's bill will pass.

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