Bingo hall company finds ally in deal

Treasure City operator wants to transfer license to Bay 50 Inc.

Anne Arundel

May 01, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

One company badly wanted to open Anne Arundel County's fifth commercial bingo parlor, only to be rebuffed by county regulators who sided with worried Broadneck area residents.

The other company has one of the coveted four bingo licenses in Arundel, but the county says its management has been so spotty that it cannot keep operating.

Now, as luck would have it, the two businesses are coming together to keep Treasure City bingo hall in Annapolis open and to satisfy their own financial interests.

Under a deal the county seems likely to approve, Treasure City's operator, Can Investments Inc., will transfer its bingo license to Bay 50 Inc. for an undisclosed amount sometime in the next several weeks.

The switch would allow Can to recoup at least some of its investment and let Bay 50 onto the commercial bingo scene. It would also satisfy the county's desire to be rid of North Carolina-based Can, which it said filed required tax forms and other documents late or incorrectly.

"We want Can out of business in this county, and we're willing to have somebody else be in business in this county," said Sally Iliff, an assistant county attorney.

The fate of Treasure City affects not only customers who like to mix low-stakes gambling with socializing, but it's also about survival for an industry criticized by some public officials on moral grounds, but one that pumps $500,000 a year into county coffers.

After Bay 50's application caused an uproar a little over a year ago, the County Council capped the number of commercial bingo licenses at four, down from six. And the council said if any license expired or was revoked, that would reduce the limit, setting the stage for eventual extinction.

License transfers are permitted, though, and that might save Treasure City, which is housed in a nondescript building on Hudson Street in an industrial area near Parole.

The final decision rests with Walter Chitwood, the county's director of inspections and permits. A hearing on Can's renewal request, which must happen before the transfer, is scheduled for May 16.

Bay 50 is trying to enter the commercial bingo business -- Arundel is one of three Maryland counties that still allow it -- at a time when the three other bingo parlors are complaining that state lotteries and other forms of legalized gambling are hurting business. But that doesn't scare Bay 50's majority shareholders, Edward Heise Jr., William Sterling and Francis Longley. "Their expectation is they can make the business succeed under current circumstances," said Bay 50's attorney, Alan J. Hyatt.

Although Bay 50 initially wanted to run a bingo hall on Route 50 near Cape St. Claire, Hyatt said the investors have no intention of asking the county for permission to move the operation from Hudson Street. "The intent is to remain at this location and improve the facility," he said.

Hyatt said he hopes the transfer can occur within 45 days. Eileen Powers, a local lawyer for Can, said she hopes it happens sooner.

"Can wants to sell and has been wanting to sell since early last year," she said. Can acquired the bingo hall in February 1999.

Can's troubles started in fall 1999, when the county refused to renew its annual license for 2000. Iliff said there was a "laundry list" of problems, including inadequate tax filings. Powers characterized the problems as "technical."

After Can could not persuade the Board of Appeals to overrule the county, it went to Circuit Court, where a judge allowed the business to stay open during an appeal. The county and Can settled out of court and signed a consent order in March. Can agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and got a chance to renew its license for 2001. But the order compelled Can to transfer its license by Dec. 31 or lose it.

Powers said she doubted whether Can could fully recoup its investment, noting that it spent $250,000 to spruce up the Hudson Street property. Still, she agreed that the company is better off selling the license. "There is value in the license, no doubt," she said.

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