Banning Bingo in Arundel

November 16, 1990

An editorial in the Nov. 16 editions of The Sun incorrectly stated that the owner of Bingo World Inc. had been indicted by the federal government. In fact, the owner had been named in court papers as an unindicted co-conspirator.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

The federal indictment of Anne Arundel County's biggest bingo hall owner on racketeering, arson and mob-connection charges raises troubling questions about the county's laissez-faire attitude toward for-profit bingo.

Is it appropriate for the county to permit a form of gambling that is tailor-made for the mob's money-laundering needs, one outlawed everywhere in the country save Indian reservations?

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

What has been going on for the past decade in the county's Department of Inspections and Permits, the agency responsible for licensing bingo halls? Why did officials renew Stephen B. Paskind's bingo license in the face of his checkered background?

Last year, the county belatedly stumbled upon the fact that the 50-year-old Floridian pleaded guilty to five gambling felonies in 1981 and, on the testimony of a Florida police detective, was known to associate with mobsters. His license was renewed not once but twice while his convictions sat for all the world to see in police files.

Anne Arundel County has been sitting on a powder keg that takes in upward of $17 million a year. This daily stream of small bills is perfect for shrouding ill-gotten gains from illegal activities. Operators have been known to engage in creative accounting to avoid federal and local taxes.

The remedy of first choice is banning for-profit bingo. But Arundel officials reject this sure-fire solution on the grounds that it unjustly penalizes honest operators for the actions of a few "crooks." That sounds like a refrain of an earlier battle over slot machines, with Arundel officials fighting tooth and nail to retain one-armed bandits, despite their clear links to criminal elements.

If the county won't outlaw bingo halls, it must impose vigorous and aggressive surveillance on these operations. Oversight should be taken from the county's Department of Inspections and Permits, whose real job is regulating new construction. Permits should be subjected to rigorous annual review, including extensive background checks of owners and managers. No new halls should be licensed.

Even with these safeguards, for-profit bingo is a bad idea. At a time of constricting revenues, it hardly seems prudent to spend taxpayer dollars monitoring a handful of gambling operators, who reap huge rewards. The time has come to end for-profit bingo. If the job is too much for squeamish Anne Arundel politicos, the governor and state legislature should step in to pull the plug on this seamy business.

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