Luling couple fights to save 19-yr-old bingo hall

July 12, 2007 at 8:08 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

LULING - John and Juanita Landry, owners of the St. Charles Bingo Hall in Boutte believe that a public hearing should be held before a second bingo hall, Bingo Palace, featuring video bingo machines opens in 60 days. “When I opened my business in the 80’s I had to go through two public hearings, have surveys drawn up to make sure I had adequate parking and basically had to follow every step to the letter,” Landry told the Herald-Guide.

Landry is concerned that the owners of a bingo business coming to the corner of St. Anthony Street and Hwy 90 in Luling didn’t have to meet those same requirements.

He has expressed his concerns to his attorney and is attempting to put a restraining order against the opening of the new bingo establishment.

“I just want to know if all of the things they’re doing are legal,” Landry said.

The Louisiana House of Representatives' gambling oversight committee stopped a bill, June 20 that would have halted the spread of video bingo machines that closely resemble slots in the way they are set up for customers to play them.

The Senate voted 27-10 last month in favor of Sen. Mike Michot's of Lafayette bill, which he said was designed to stop the proliferation of the slot-like machines.

The House Committee of Criminal Justice took the position that the proposal by Michot, would have the impact of restricting charities from opting for the popular Cadillac Jack machines.

Charitable gaming through bingo has been legal for decades in Louisiana. About 15 years ago, legislators approved video bingo at charitable bingo games.

Tim Vial, administrative officer, said that everything required by the parish ordinances were met by Luling Leasing. “There’s nothing illegal about the permit process, or the location,” he said. “The owners followed all parish and zoning ordinances.”

Video bingo machines look a lot like slot machines with players winning cash jackpots of up to a $1,000. Landry’s views differ from Brett Sulzer, one of the owners of the Bingo Palace.

“The machines don’t have any ties or any connection to any computer system. The machines are not regulated, so there are no checks or balances,” Landry said.

“You can make as much money as you want to off of the machines (which will be open 12 hours a day) and without a final total no one really knows how much will be donated to charitable organizations.”

The difference, Landry said, is that he leases his St. Charles Bingo Hall to charities who run the bingo games themselves. The money the groups collect off of the bingo games goes directly to the charity - he keeps no portion of that money.

Sulzer said a check and balance system is in place to monitor the video bingo machines in the Bingo Palace.

“The video bingo machines are not directly connected to a state central system, like video poker machines are, the only machines that I’m aware of that are connected to a state-owned central system are video poker machines.”

Sulzer, who helped start bingo machine distributor Pelican Bingo, said the video bingo machines are manually regulated and are monitored extensively by the distributors or the owners of the machines.

“For example, the machine owner or one of his employees takes the meter readings and submits the information to the office of charitable gaming. This office also conducts numerous onsite inspections of the devices, and makes sure every single chip that goes into the devices matches all manual data collected,” he said.

“That way accurate records are kept of the amount of money that goes into machine, and what comes out of it.”

“You can’t tamper with the chips inside of the video bingo machines - they are all tested by Gaming Labatories, a national company,” he continued.

“The chips are actually placed into the machines by the office of Charitable Gaming in Baton Rouge and all of the information is verified by their office,” Sulzer said.

“Video Bingo is the only form of electronic entertainment where at least 45 percent of the gross proceeds are given directly to the charities,” he continued.

“In most cases, you’re talking about mid-level charities that desperately need funds and have a difficult time raising money for their cause especially since Hurricane Katrina, and that money is used directly in the community in which the charitable organization is located.”

Landry said owners of the new video bingo hall are apparently going to open right next to Mimosa Park Elementary without public input or knowledge.

“Because we are open to the general assembly and we’re allowing groups to come in to play bingo, we had to jump through hoops to get parish and state approval,” he continued, “including a public hearing that was held before the St. Charles Parish Council some 19 years ago. We think its only fair to keep all of the rules the same for everyone.”

David Bulloch, one of the nine owners of the video bingo business, said he has already received all the permits he needs to open.

"I have already received my permits, and I don't know anything about having to go before the parish council," he said. "As far as I am concerned we've followed all parish guidelines and we will open the Luling Bingo Palace in 60 days."

"The hours of operation will be from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Monday through Sunday," he said. This business will be great for charitable organizations and the community.

According to Louisiana commercial licensing board records, Bulloch, Richard Murphy, and Brett Sulzer will lease the building, and Bernard Manuel, retired chief of police in Gretna, Manuel Liccardi, Jim Falgout, and his son Chad, Arthur Lawson, the current chief of police in Gretna, and Judge Edward Dufresne will own the video bingo machines.

"The person who leases the building can't own the machines," Bulloch explained.

"To the best of my knowledge, we have followed all criteria and guidelines in St. Charles Parish."

Mike Henderson, director of St. Charles Parish planning and zoning department said that public notification was not required to open the bingo hall.

“The permit applied for by the owner of the video bingo hall coming to Luling is for a commercial recreational facility and is within parish guidelines,” Henderson said. “A public hearing is not required for any permit that meets the zoning requirements for a particular area.”

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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