Bingo on agenda, rules aren’t

Published 11:59 pm Friday, June 5, 2009

The Covington County Coalition Against Gambling is on the agenda of Monday’s county commission meeting, but bingo rules are not.

The Rev. Fred Karthaus, pastor of First Baptist Church of Andalusia, said organizers have been collecting the names and address of people to be a part of a coalition to oppose gambling in the county.

“We want to be able to contact them and keep them informed about the issue,” Karthaus said.

He said organizers also hope the commission will see how many people oppose having gaming in the county.

Retired Circuit Judge Jerry Stokes is listed on Monday’s agenda as the spokesperson for the group.

Also on the agenda is former commission chairman Johnny Mac Weed, who is expected to speak in favor of permitting electronic bingo.

Earlier this year, the commission unanimously adopted a resolution asking the legislature to repeal a 1993 act setting rules for charitable bingo in Covington County. House Bill 821 introduced this year would have done that, but the legislation did not pass.

The 1993 rules give the county’s sheriff the authority to issue $100 permits for charitable bingo to entities that meet certain requirements.

Constitutional Amendment 565, approved by vote in 1994, allows charitable bingo in Covington County and charges the county commission with setting rules for it. The commission has never set those rules, but began taking steps to do so when gaming representatives approached both the county and local charities about the possibility of setting up electronic gaming in Covington County.

In May, the commission’s original agenda included the adoption of proposed rules, but the agenda was changed before the meeting began. At the time, county attorney Julie Moody said commissioners hadn’t had time to review the rules and she hoped they would adopt rules at their next meeting.

Representatives of The Star-News, The Opp News and the Covington Baptist Association have all asked for copies of the rules the county is considering. Members of The Star-News staff have requested copies verbally and in writing. Those requests have been denied.

Thursday afternoon, Commission Chairman Lynn Sasser said bingo rules would be on Monday’s agenda for consideration, and that he would support passing those rules. Members of The Star-News staff were told that more information about those proposed rules would be presented Friday.

Friday morning, Moody invited members of The Star-News staff and The Opp News staff to a meeting in the offices of Albritton, Clifton and Moody to discuss proposed bingo rules. An hour before it was scheduled, the meeting was cancelled. Moody said she could not discuss the rules because there was not a set of rules to discuss.

Friday afternoon, Sasser said two commissioners, who had said Thursday they would vote to pass the rules, had changed their minds. While the rules could be passed with the support of only three commissioners, Sasser said he and others had hoped commissioners would be unanimous in their support.

“We’re not asking them to vote for bingo,” Sasser said. “It’s already here. We’re asking them to pass some rules, just like the law requires us to do.”

Sasser would not say what the rules would require, but indicated there would be a number of requirements for those who wish to install electronic gaming.

“It ain’t gonna be a slap-hazard joint,” Sasser said. “They’re gonna have to bury some money.

“I mean they’re going to have to invest some serious cash, and it ain’t gonna be chicken change,” he said. “They’re going to have to guarantee a certain number of jobs for local people.

“Let it have some honor to it,” Sasser said.

A source close to the county said that the rules being considered earlier in the week required a facility to have a minimum of 500 electronic bingo machines to receive a permit.

At least one organization, the Danley Charitable Foundation in Opp, has applied for a bingo permit. Sheriff Dennis Meeks has not acted on the permit, but said he is waiting to see the rules adopted by the commission. The application was filed by Peggy Ellis, who is the mother of Commissioner David Ellis.