BELLFLOWER — Bingo, a game that had been officially banned but quietly played in this city, has finally scored a win with the City Council.
An ordinance legalizing bingo as a way for nonprofit organizations to raise money was passed Monday by a 4-0 vote. Councilman John Ansdell abstained. Once the game was legal, the council voted 3-1 to charge a licensing fee and to tax proceeds in excess of $5,000 a month.
City Clerk Debra Harrington said petitions with more than 1,000 signatures and 148 letters supporting legalization of bingo were received at City Hall in the last week. All but 24 of the letters came from parents of students attending St. Dominic Savio parochial school.
Father Salvatore Giacomini, pastor of St. Dominic Savio, called the ordinance crucial to the "survival of our parochial school," and said that bingo had been played there for at least five years. Giacomini said the income from bingo, an estimated $6,000 to $8,000 a month, provides financial support to the school, including tuition for needy students and money for maintenance, repair and improvements to the facilities.
Giacomini said that during the five years of his pastorship no one had questioned the legality of the games.
Boosters Filed Complaint
But last month a booster club at a public school, which had tried unsuccessfully to persuade the City Council to legalize bingo, filed a complaint about illegal games. The Sheriff's Department responded Sept. 23 by ordering all bingo games halted. Bill Pendleton, president of the Performing Arts Boosters at Bellflower High School, filed the complaint against five establishments, including St. Dominic Savio. All five were visited by sheriff's deputies and were told to stop playing the games. No citations were issued.
Pendleton said the boosters wanted to play bingo to raise funds for extracurricular activities at the high school but were told it was not legal. A 1976 state law gives cities the option of legalizing bingo.
The council took no action on a measure it passed Sept. 23 placing the issue of legalizing bingo on the April municipal ballot. Councilman Ray O'Neal said the measure could be rescinded at a later date.
Mayor James Earle Christo said the council did not know that illegal bingo was going on in the city. He said he was happy that a solution had been found.
The ordinance establishes rules for playing bingo, including licensing procedures, hours and fees. The measure was passed as an urgency ordinance, which takes effect immediately. Persons under age 18 are prohibited from playing and the games cannot be held by any organization for more than six hours per week.
A separate resolution, passed by a vote of 3 to 1 with Ansdell abstaining, establishes a $50 fee for the license and an additional fee of 1% of the monthly gross receipts over $5,000. O'Neal, who voted against passage, said he favors a lower licensing fee of $25.