Hell hath no fury like seniors deprived of Bingo!
After 20 years of weekly Bingo games at the Biddeford 50+ Club, a Maine State Police investigator re-interpreted a statute and shut down the social activity. Jim Gass is the Grinch who stole Bingo!
Title 17, Chapter 13-A, Section 313-A defines the senior exemption from the license requirement for Bingo. According to the law, if 90% or more of the membership in a club is at least 62 years of age, the club is legally able to hold Bingo events without obtaining a license, so long as it is not for profit, but for the recreation and enjoyment of the members.
Since 1992, the Club has been duly operating Bingo games on a weekly basis. The games produce no profit for the Club. Debbie Lizotte, senior program coordinator for the 50+ Club, began her job in around 2002. At that time, she confirmed, through a state official, that no license was necessary.
In a recent telephone interview, Gass stated that he has reread the law. His expanded interpretation of Section 313-A somehow includes the players in the not for profit provision. Therefore he shut down the Bingo games at the end of September 2012 due to the $10 in prize money.
The Bingo Club
Dozens of happy seniors appeared every week at the Bingo games. They arrived early and remained well after the last Bingo! was shouted. The Wednesday late morning Bingo events were more than exciting and mentally energizing games: Each event was an entertaining social gathering for all. They had lunch together, chitchatted about current happenings in the community and in their personal lives and got caught up on worldly news. While Bingo is what brought the group together, the social scene was the central focus.
The very real recreation and entertainment of Club members fit directly into the wording of the statute. Jean McLaughlin, a member who enjoyed playing Bingo and socializing with her friends, commented that players came from Sanford, Old Orchard Beach, Wells, Dayton, Saco and from the rest of the towns in the area.
Club member Dorothy Pears, who resides in Sanford, said that the early hour of the games was geared to seniors like herself, who have trouble driving in the dark. Frank Defrancesco, the 50+ club president, stated that the Bingo events were sorely missed by the group. He said that the social setting was the draw for the members of the Club. Defrancesco added that the Bingo events provided a day out. It was the highlight of the week for many of the players.
Biddeford Steps to the Plate
The vocal dissatisfaction of the 50+ Club members has come to the attention of the City of Biddeford. The city government is presently in the process of restoring the Bingo games through various legal maneuvers of City Solicitor Keith Jacques.
The Maine State Police Investigator
Investigator Gass told Lizotte that the games could continue, sans the cash prizes. Let them win candy bars was his retort. Lizotte pointed out that candy bars are inappropriate as many club members are diabetic. She added that there is nothing exciting about winning a candy bar.