BELLFLOWER — With a high school booster club complaining that illegal bingo games have been operated in the city, Mayor James Earle Christo said this week that he will ask the City Council to consider an emergency ordinance that would immediately legalize fund-raising bingo.
At the same Oct. 14 meeting, Christo said, he will ask the council to rescind a measure passed Sept. 23 that would allow voters to decide in April whether they want bingo.
Cities Have Option
"This issue should be resolved as soon as possible," Christo said.
A 1976 state law gives cities the option of legalizing bingo, and it is allowed in at least 18 neighboring Southeast cities. Bellflower's city staff is looking at laws adopted by some of those cities and is expected to draft similiar provisions.
The council in recent weeks has come under pressure from members of a booster organization that wants the city to adopt an ordinance legalizing bingo. The Performing Arts Boosters says it wants to conduct bingo games to raise funds for extracurricular activities at Bellflower High School.
Bill Pendleton, president of the group, filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Department on Sept. 23, alleging that illegal bingo games are being conducted in the city.
Five Violaltors Named
Pendleton filed the complaint against five establishments that he said allow bingo on their premises. The groups are the Elks Lodge, at 16426 S. Bellflower Blvd.; the Knights of Columbus, 9847 Artesia Blvd.; St. Dominic Savio Catholic Church; St. Bernard Catholic Church and St. John Bosco High School.
All five were visited by members of the Sheriff's Department after the complaint was filed and "were told to stop playing the games if they were," Sheriff's Deputy Tony Sciacca said.
"We had no proof of them operating games. None were advertising, but we contacted the person in charge and told them a criminal complaint had been filed and told them to stop (if they were playing) until the city passed an ordinance enabling them to play," said Sciacca, of the sheriff's licensing bureau.
"We hope telling them to cease and desist will suffice, but if not we will take more aggressive action. I can't say what that would be right now. Citations could be issued," said Lt. Susan Burgoon, who is with the Lakewood substation of the Sheriff's Department. The Lakewood substation has law enforcement responsibility for Bellflower.
Pendleton said he "blew the whistle" on illegal bingo games after his booster group could not get satisfactory action from the council.
"We do not have any ax to grind with anyone. But we're being told that the games were not going on in the city. We knew they were. And we wanted to play, but we wanted to do it legally," said Pendleton, 43.
Pendleton said the group did an investigation and discovered bingo was being played. Pendleton said he also took a picture of a billboard outside the Elks Lodge that advertised bingo.
'I'm Not Going to Admit'
Carl Miller, who operates the Elks Lodge, said during an interview Monday that "the sign is not up there anymore. I'm not going to admit to it (bingo). It is not going on now. We complied with their wishes."
Beginning early in the year, the boosters approached the council on a number of occasions for permission to conduct bingo games but were told that bingo could not be played because the city did not allow the game, Pendleton said.
On the same day Pendleton filed his complaint, the council voted 4-1 to place the issue on the regularly scheduled April municipal ballot. Christo, Councilman John Ansdell and Councilman Ray O'Neal will be up for reelection at that time. Pendleton filed his complaint before the council vote.
Councilman Mike Brassard cast the only dissenting vote. Brassard said he favored appointing an ad hoc committee to study the issue before the council made a decision.
Christo said he intends to ask the council during the Oct. 14 to also consider forming such a committee to study whether a permanent ordinance should be adopted.
Churches May Object
"We have more than 50 churches in this city. I don't know how people feel about this. They might object to bingo (for religious reasons)," Christo said. "This might become a school issue. There might be some people who object to bingo being played on school property."
Pendleton said the booster club was basically interested in getting a bingo law. Then, he said, "We will worry about where it will be played." The games could be played on private property.
The bingo games would raise money to help purchase extra school equipment, including band uniforms, Pendleton said.
As far as the upcoming emergency ordinance is concerned, Pendleton said he would adopt "a wait and see attitude. If it passes, I'll be tickled to death."
Christo said he expects "a full house" during the Oct. 14 meeting.