Not-for-profit gambling pinched by recession

July 20, 2010

The lingering recession is cutting into the money Indiana's not-for-profit groups generate from bingo, pull-tabs and other gaming ventures, straining their budgets as patrons hit by the downturn scale back on gambling.

Hundreds of veterans groups, churches and other not-for-profit entities statewide hold charitable state gaming licenses that allow them to raise money for their causes.

Although numbers for fiscal year 2010, which ended in June, are not yet available, the revenue raised by those groups has dropped recently, continuing a decade-long trend.

Fiscal year 2008, which ran from July 2007 through June 2008, was the first year that would reflect the recession. It showed a drop in gross charity gambling receipts statewide, to $513.4 million.

Although receipts rebounded to $539.1 million in fiscal year 2009, which ran from July 2008 through June 2009, overall gross receipts — the amount spent by patrons on charity gambling — are down 8 percent from 2000 to 2009.

The amount retained by the groups running the games and events is up slightly but the amount passed on to other charities is down 18 percent over the decade.

Larry Delaney, assistant director for the Indiana Gaming Commission, said the number of qualified organizations using charity gambling for fundraising has dropped and he has heard stories of shrinking revenues.

"The clubs tell us routinely that attendance is down and income is down," he told The Journal Gazette.

Mike Davis, the post adjutant for the John C. Peterson American Legion Post 49 in Warsaw, said the club is facing a serious decline in its bingo and paper pull-tabs games because some patrons hard-hit by the downturn have stopped gambling.

"We're in the slumps right now. The economy is killing everybody. We have to wait it out or close our doors. We're hoping that doesn't happen either," he said.

Davis said his post has bingo two nights a week and the first Sunday of every month, but it isn't the bingo that makes money, it's the pull-tabs.

Pull-tabs are paper versions of a slot machine in which a gambler tries to get the right combination of cherries, gold bars or other symbols. The maximum win per pull-tab is $599.

"The bingo is the lure to get people to the establishment and pull-tabs are extra," Davis said. "For the most part, the American Legions I know break even or lose money on bingo but it gets people in the building to play pull-tabs and eat and drink."

Tom Shriner, a longtime bingo volunteer for the Time Corners Lions Club in Fort Wayne, said his group is trying discounts and giveaways to increase attendance.

"But people are struggling and have less money for fun things," he said.

The group's bingo is called Elegant Occasions Bingo and runs three nights a week.

In fiscal year 2009, the Lions Club's annual bingo license brought in more than $4 million in gross receipts. All but $389,000 of that went to expenses and prizes. About $5,200 was distributed to other charities and the rest was retained by the club.

"It brings in a lot more money than selling light bulbs and other fundraisers we used to do," Shriner said.

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