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Bingo bill could change the game for Virginia

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The General Assembly is considering a bill to change the way bingo is played in Virginia. The move is aimed at helping players and charities make more money. And if you think bingo is just for senior citizens playing in church halls, think again.

This is not your grandparent's bingo game. Several times a week, thousands of players pour into bingo halls across the state.

Bingo is a state regulated game that takes in nearly $300 million a year. Organizers say players spend about $100 each and 80 percent of the money raised is given back to players in prizes on bingo games and instant winner tickets.

Explains Chuck Lessin with the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association,"You can win instant money or wait until everybody opens their tickets and then numbers are called. And if you have that number you can win up to $599."

As many as 450 charities statewide fund-raise by running bingo games. They say it's steadier income than other fundraisers. Said Lessin, "A charity in the Richmond area, should be able to generate between $100,000 and $200,000 on the calendar year net of all of their expenses."

The charities must be 501c3's and range from dog shelters to high school boosters to sports teams, such as speed skating, that train at SportsQuest.

Kelly Springer, speed skating coach at SportsQuest, tells us, "Bingo was the one thing that allowed our charity to bring me here. I was coaching at the Olympic Training Center and some of the smaller clubs across the country could have never brought together the kind of funds to bring a coach, a high level coach, into Virginia without fundraising like this."

Now the legislature is considering changing some of the rules and modernizing the games. That may mean winner-take-all games go. But new types of bingo games may be approved with bigger prizes. Said Lessin of some of the games, "So that instead of the prize being limited to $100, these progressive games can pay up to $5,000."

The idea is to help players and charities make more money, especially after the industry suffered a 30% decline during the recession. "The charities are really banding together, hoping with the Office of Charitable Gaming and General Legislature, we'll be able to grow our industry and support our charities," said Lessin.

The House and Senate passed versions of the bingo bill and are now working out the final details. If Governor McDonnell signs it into law, the changes would begin July 1.

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