The Burdens Of Bingo State Requirements, Seen As Daunting, May Force Schools To Aband


Nurses love to give shots
Dec 16, 2004
The Burdens Of Bingo
State Requirements, Seen As Daunting, May Force Schools To Abandon Popular Events
By JIM FARRELL | Courant Staff Writer
February 18, 2008
November, students at Manchester's Waddell Elementary School have joined their siblings, parents and teachers for a noisy evening of "turkey bingo," which featured a basket filled with Thanksgiving goodies as the top prize and the guarantee that every kid would go home with at least a pencil.
"Definitely our most popular event," said Debra Donnelly, who is the mother of a third-grader and in her first year as PTA president.
Alas, bingo has been a no-go at Waddell and other elementary schools in town this year, after officials learned that PTA leaders hadn't realized they needed to register with the state Division of Special Revenue.
Lawmakers are considering changing the law to cut schools some slack, but, otherwise, Donnelly said she's probably going to scrap bingo night.
"There's just too much paperwork," she said, adding that her recent effort to schedule a pre-Easter "hambone bingo" has been riddled with problems. One is the reluctance of would-be volunteers to be subjected to the background checks the state requires.
Bingo has been legal in the state for almost 70 years. It is closely regulated because thousands of dollars are often at stake at close to 200 events held each week in church basements and VFW halls.
In 1988, the state created a special bingo category called "amusement and recreation," which has allowed senior groups to operate games with less oversight. Prizes are capped at $20.
State Rep. Ryan Barry, who represents Manchester's 12th Assembly District, is urging the legislature to change state law so PTAs could run such games with similarly low stakes.
"I don't think there's a downside to it," said Barry, whose preliminary proposal calls for an annual registration fee of $50 and limits the admission to no more than $1. "Parents being able to get into their kids' school lives and social lives is a benefit."
The crackdown in Manchester began in early November, shortly after East Catholic High School was cited for using a money wheel in a fund-raising drive.
No legal action was taken, because state officials said the school was unaware that it was breaking the law. But the case led Manchester's public school administrators to alert its principals and PTA leaders, telling them to cancel the turkey bingo events that were just weeks away.
Even with time to properly register, though, Donnelly said the process is daunting.
Form CGB-1, for example, is a registration application that needs to be notarized and also signed by a town's police chief or first selectman. Form CGB/S-2A authorizes the state "to investigate any and all records" concerning a person's background."
Donnelly said the background check has been a turn-off to volunteers.
"People don't want to go through all that," Donnelly said. "They don't understand why they have to do it."
Paul Bernstein, of the special revenue division, said he knows his department might be seen as part of a fun-suppressing bureaucracy, but added that the division must enforce the law.
"We have serious work to do and are not looking to involve ourselves with games for children," Bernstein said, adding that he believes his division would support the sort of changes outlined by Barry.
Plenty of school PTAs properly register for fund-raising bingo, Bernstein said. He said he did not know of schools that were conducting the recreational-level events as in Manchester.
"It's never been a problem before," he said.
However, Merrill Kidd, formerly president of Manchester's townwide PTA council and an officer for four years with the state PTA, said she is certain some schools in the state are still unwittingly but illegally holding bingo nights.
"A lot of PTAs probably don't know the law, and aren't being malicious," Kidd said. She said school districts should make sure PTA leaders are informed.
As for Donnelly, she just wants a little less red tape.
"I'm at the point where I'm saying, 'Forget it,' " she said. "We just want to have a family fun night with the kids."