Monday, September 15, 2008

BINGO: Some blame casino for losses

By Aleasha Sandley, Herald Bulletin Staff Writer
ANDERSON — Around town, the twirl of the bingo cage might soon be replaced by the pull of a slot machine lever. The bingo hall at the city’s AMVETS Brian Simpson Post 692 has increasingly become more silent, as those who joyously yell “bingo!” when they have a winning card have left the game for higher-stakes gambling at Anderson’s new Hoosier Park Casino.
Since the casino opened in June, Post 692 has seen a decrease in bingo players, from about 250-260 players a night to 130-180, leaving the post’s operations and charity work, funded by bingo and pull-tabs, floundering for more money.
“When the casino opened in June, it pretty much just annhilated all the bingo in the area as far as making a normal profit,” said Phil Ray, financial officer for Post 692. “It put us in a tailspin.”
The Indiana Gaming Commission has not done studies on whether casinos affect the profitability of charity gaming sites, like bingo halls.
“We have at this time no statistics to support that,” said Diane Freeman, director for charity gaming at the IGC. “We definitely have not done any type of statistical analysis of that so far.”
As a not-for-profit, Post 692 depends on the money earned from charity gambling to fund its overhead costs and contribute to its charitable causes. Before the casino came, it was giving about $30,000 in scholarships a year, but since has had to withdraw from that amount and cut back on other charities as well, Ray said.
“We had to cut back any way we could,” he said. “Up until this month, we were looking at possibly even closing.”
Thanks to tireless advertising and special food and beverage deals, the post has been able to bounce back some in the past couple months, rebounding to numbers a little closer to normal. But it’s too early to tell if the rebound is a permanent fix, Ray said.
“We’re trying to get them back from the casinos, and we’re having a difficult time with it,” he said.
Chesterfield’s AMVETS Basil Barkdull Post 332 also has seen a loss due to the new casino, said post official Jan Barkdull. The post has lost $10,000 a month since May, when things started going downhill. Barkdull said the loss was a combination of the casino and poor economy.
“I think it’s probably 50/50,” she said. “I’m hoping the newness of the casino is kind of wearing off.”
Post 332’s profits go to Stepping Stones, an organization with a $350,000 to $400,000 annual operating budget that provides transitional housing for homeless veterans and women going through drug court. If losses grow, the post could have to stop giving money to the shelter.
“I keep praying that’s not going to happen,” Barkdull said.
But Bob Burns, who runs bingo operations at Anderson’s Elks lodge, said summer is a slow time for bingo anyway, with players having more options for spending their time outdoors or with their children who are home from school. The Elks bingo only has been in operation since April, so it’s too soon to tell if the casino will affect it, Burns said.
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