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Bingo Fogs Smoking Law Issue


State legislation prohibiting smoking in workplaces might not apply to a Stanton nonprofit group's bingo games, concludes a city attorney's report issued last week.

Whether a nonprofit group called the Kingsmen can legally permit smoking at its bingo games will depend on whether the operation employs independent contractors instead of paid employees, said Stanton City Atty. Gregory Diaz.

State legislation bans smoking wherever there are paid employees, including bars and gambling operations.

But a Superior Court judge ruled that several Sacramento County nonprofit groups could allow smoking because they had volunteers and independent contractors--not paid employees--staffing their games.

Kingsmen Executive Director Richard Oliverio has said that like the Sacramento games, only volunteers and independent contractors run Kingsmen Bingo games.

The hitch lies in determining whether Oliverio, the Kingsmen bookkeeper and any other personnel truly have independent contractor status, Diaz said. "Someone could be called an independent contractor, but state law could see them as an employee," he said.

Oliverio has complained to the City Council about the smoking laws, saying revenue from bingo has decreased because patrons now travel to Native American bingo games where smoking is allowed. The smoking ban officially began in January 1998, but Oliverio didn't begin enforcing it until March 1999 when he received a citation.

Oliverio said the lost business could force him to renege on a promise to donate $1,000 per week to Stanton charities in return for the council authorizing bingo four nights per week.

If the city attorney concludes smoking laws should not apply to the Kingsmen, the council can appeal the Orange County Health Care Agency's current policy, said City Manager Terry Matz. The health care agency oversees the smoking law in Stanton. It has previously told the city that bingo parlors must abide by the smoking law, Matz said.

If the agency does not change its policy, the council could opt to switch to another enforcing agency, such as the Sheriff's Department and the city's code enforcement department, Diaz said.

Judy Silber can be reached at (714) 966-5988.

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