Last call for bingo, other Arundel topics


February 06, 2000|By NORRIS WEST

Today, pieces of columns--

Anne Arundel County has its quirks. There's the satirical Maritime Republic of Eastport, an Annapolis neighborhood that has "seceded" from the mainland to become a sovereign nation. MRE calls its city council representative an ambassador to Annapolis, which it calls Westport.

There's County Executive Janet S. Owens, a smoker from a long line of tobacco farmers,who officially supports anti-smoking campaigns -- and supports them staunchly.

And there's commercial bingo. The for-profit parlors overshadow non-profit bingo games run by churches and other organizations. These operations have thrived here like in few other communities. Commercial bingo is rare outside Nevada and Indian reservations.

But commercial bingo's last call could be in the offing.

County officials are again raising questions about commercial bingo, and this time B-I-N-G-O could go B-Y-E.

Responding to overwhelming community opposition, county officials last month denied an application for a proposed bingo parlor near U.S. 50 on the Broadneck Peninsula. Shortly after that decision, five county council members sponsored a bill to reduce the number of commercial bingo parlors here from six to three and to study whether these businesses can be driven to extinction.

Bingo parlors seem to have kept clean since federal prosecutors lodged money-laundering charges against the then-owner of Bingo World, the county's largest operation. When I visited Bingo World two months ago, the place seemed harmless, not nefarious. The evening games seemed to combine socializing and gambling.

Bingo was not what I had expected. Yes, it may be a gateway to compulsive gambling like other forms of betting, but that wasn't visible. What I saw were older people, mostly, whittling away their evening hours on a rainy night. I suspect -- and I'm guessing here -- that many are lonely and this is their major social outlet.

But Dr. Valerie C. Lorenz, executive director of the Compulsive Gambling Center Inc., places the effects of bingo right up there with other forms of gambling. "We have Las Vegas right here in Baltimore," she reported in a study a few years ago. "We have casino gamblers, we have racetrack gamblers, slot machine addicts, lottery addicts, bingo addicts and poker machine addicts." She said all could lead to lost homes and suicidal thoughts.

Perhaps some people are addicted to bingo. But perhaps they're addicted to the atmosphere where they can enter for free and risk as much as they want.

If these parlors are legislated into extinction, what will happen to the players? Will they move on to other forms of gambling? Will they find other social outlets?

A study like the one the county council proposes should bring the answers needed to decide whether commercial bingo should get ready to sing its last song.

Diallo and Daughtry

There's a big difference between Diallo and Daughtry.

A year ago, New York police fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo while he was in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment. Nineteen shots hit him. Police fired because he looked suspicious, whatever that meant. Diallo, a West African immigrant, was not endangering anyone. He was unarmed. Four white police officers are on trial -- properly, it seems -- for his murder.

On Labor Day 1996, Cochise Ornandez Daughtry was killed at the Robinwood housing development. City police officer David W. Garcia fired four shots, striking Daughtry, 18, and a 19-year-old man, who was wounded. Daughtry and the 19-year-old were beating -- or appeared to be beating -- a third man. A broken bottle was their weapon. Versions of the story vary, but it was clear that Daughtry ignored the officer's order to stop. The victim, who was 40, said the officer's actions saved his life.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury recently cleared the officer in a civil lawsuit brought against the city. Previously, a grand jury declined to indict the officer, and a police investigation found he had acted properly.

Anyone being beaten with a broken bottle would want an officer arriving on the scene to use necessary force to prevent further injury or death. It is unfortunate that an officer's life-saving action sparked racial tension.

But Daughtry was not Diallo, a case that presents 41 reasons to get angry.

Area's best hoops team?

The Sun's high school sports team knows a lot more about local hoops than I, but the crack staff can't convince me that Annapolis is only the second-best basketball team in the Baltimore area.

At this writing, Annapolis is undefeated, but ranks second in the Sun poll behind Towson Catholic, which has lost four times. I've seen both teams this year. Towson Catholic is impressive, with a strong center and two terrific guards.

But I doubt that any team in the area can match Annapolis' Tremendous Trio: Thomas Hawkins, Marcus Johnson and Marcus Neal. Aaron Copeland and Joe Feldmann are excellent role players.

Here's wishing the Panthers reach No. 1 -- on the court and in the classroom.

Norris West writes editorials For The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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