Carroll officials' crackdown on penny-ante games draws the ire of many older residents.

Seniors subject to ban on wagers? Bet on it!

April 28, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Nearly all bets are off at the Westminster Senior Center now that Carroll County officials have enforced a longstanding ban on wagers.

For years, the center patrons have spiced up card games, billiard contests and daily bingo calls with small pots, usually with a 25 cent limit per player.

But when the center's administrators recently discovered money on the card tables, pots for billiards and betting on bingo, they could not dismiss it, said Janet B. Flora, chief of the county Bureau of Aging. The county code specifically prohibits wagering, including bets on bingo games, on public property, officials said.

"Gambling is illegal here," Flora said. "The code does not differentiate, and we could not ignore it. I know this represents a change, even a loss. It is someone else telling you what you can and can't do."

Wagner "Bud" Miller, 82, said the county should "give us a break. We are not in kindergarten, but they are taking our fun away."

County Attorney Kimberly Millender said state law controls gaming events and gambling regulations are enacted by the legislature and vary by jurisdiction.

"Casino nights are allowed in Howard County but not in Carroll, for instance," she said. "The state legislature has created different provisions for every county. Nobody really cares about pennies wagered, but we learned some of the card game pots got kind of rich."

Flora secured a permit at no cost from the county tax office about a week ago. It allows bingo betting once a week, but the center has banned all other wagers. The policy is particularly galling for pool players, such as Miller, who said a few cents can make a game more interesting.

A percentage of the billiard bets helped keep the tables and equipment in good order, said Mary Sanders, 75, secretary-treasurer of the county's Senior Pool League, which has about 50 members.

"You might win $2 or $3 if you were really lucky," Sanders said. "Now what will we do to pay for maintenance?"

Bill Fitzgerald, 68, co-captain of the Mount Airy senior billiards league, was offended by the new policy.

"Nobody is going to make a living from the gambling that goes on here," he said. "We are talking about pennies for bingo and quarters for pool."

On Thursdays, according to the new permit, players can wager pennies or nickels for each bingo card as they have done for as long as any of them can remember.

On the other days, winners have to be content with a donated prize, typically a package of peanut butter crackers or a small bag of pretzels or chips.

"So now we are playing for snacks that we don't need," said Irene Brooks, bingo caller for about 10 players yesterday. "We all helped build this building. Why can't we play for pennies?"

As many as 40 people typically played the penny-a-card game with the winner taking all, Brooks said. The bingo crowd has thinned considerably since the county insisted on strict adherence of the anti-gambling policy, she said.

"We have to stand on our policy that gambling is not allowed on county property," said Steven D. Powell, the county commissioners' chief of staff.

Informed of the gambling and the need for enforcing county law, Commissioner Dean L. Minnich called the policy against penny bets unrealistic.

"So what if our seniors want to bet on a game?" he asked. "Why can't others just mind their own business and leave these people alone?"

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