Amusement licensing panel refuses permit for bingo hall

Board raises concerns over traffic, zoning for facility off U.S. 50

Planning has final say

January 13, 2000|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Amusement Licensing Commission unanimously rejected yesterday an Annapolis company's proposal to open a state-of-the-art commercial bingo hall on Broadneck Peninsula off U.S. 50 near Annapolis.

The seven-member commission noted traffic, zoning, parking and environmental concerns, in addition to worries that the building, an old roller-skating rink, would not accommodate the 750 players the new operation would be designed for.

The application now goes to the interim director of the departments of planning and zoning, Richard Wilcox, who has three weeks to decide whether to accept or overturn the commission's decision. The company, Bay 50 Inc., was required to pay a $25,000 nonrefundable application fee.

Anne Arundel County is one of the few places outside the state of Nevada and Indian reservations that permit commercial bingo, which allows bingo parlor owners to profit from the games. The county has three licensed bingo halls, and the county code allows up to six. Most bingo operations are run by nonprofit organizations that raise money for charities.

Legalized in 1950, bingo in Anne Arundel is a relic of the county's summer resort and gambling history, said Anne Hatcher, chief of licensing for the planning department.

All of the existing operations were approved before the county overhauled the bingo licensing regulations in 1991.

The new regulations tightened controls and required bingo companies' principals to pass "character" tests and the operations to meet stringent zoning and permit requirements.

Those new requirements were, in part, added to prevent a repeat of the problems of a north county bingo operation that led to an indictment in the 1980s in federal court on charges of money laundering, Hatcher said. That operation is no longer in business.

Yesterday, commission members said Bay 50 Inc. failed to meet the requirements for "access to the site" and "compatibility with the community."

"There were real questions about the specific location and a number of things when it came to zoning that were real borderline," said commission Vice Chairwoman Mary Baldridge.

The commission found that the company would be unable to provide proper unloading facilities on the busy road outside the hall off U.S. 50 for the anticipated six buses and dozen vans it planned to operate. The hall also did not meet sewer requirements.

Since Bay 50 Inc. applied in October for a license, residents on the peninsula have packed community hearings on the proposal to argue against the company receiving a license.

"Even without the enormous citizen input," said commission member Ray Smallwood, "the company did not meet the proper requirements as far as the community goes."

John Morris, spokesman for the departments of planning and zoning, said it was unclear what Wilcox would do since little precedent exists.

"The director will review their recommendation, but this is the first time a new license has come up" under the new regulations, Morris said.

In the past three decades, most companies did not apply for new licenses but bought out old bingo companies and took over their facilities.

Bay 50 Inc. partners Edward Heise Jr., G. William Sterling and Francis X. Longley hope to build a $1.7 million facility called Bay Shore Bingo with a kitchen, contour chairs, 12 televisions, and a glassed-in nonsmoking section. The operation would offer up to $9,000 in prizes a night.

Sterling and Heise operate a nonprofit bingo group called Relief Resources that runs charitable bingo operations in Baltimore County, according to their proposal.

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