For decades, bingo games and other forms of gaming have provided a major funding source for local posts of the American Legion in Indiana and other not-for-profit organizations.
But with the advent of legal gambling outlets, rules that prevent organizations from providing even small compensation to the volunteers running their charitable games make it hard for these all-volunteer groups to stay in business.
“Those (organizations) that might not be able to compensate workers may be at a disadvantage,” Sarah Tait, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, told the Interim Study Committee on Public Policy on Friday. “Certainly the common theme we hear is that charities are having a hard time finding volunteers.”
The committee listened to more than an hour of testimony from organizations like the American Legion. Members explained the importance of gambling for many charities.
Lisa Wilken, district chair of the American Legion in Indiana, said charitable gambling has been critical in raising money for the organization, but finances and membership are now on a steady decline. That is, in part, because the organization isn't allowed to provide volunteers with any compensation, not even a drink after a five-hour shift.
“Our bingo workers are important to our veterans’ organization because right now, bingo is all voluntary. We are in direct competition with all of the organizations that have gaming in the state, gambling in the state. The difference is we’re charitable gaming,” Wilken said.
With dwindling financial support from charitable gaming, the American Legion has had to close a couple of their posts, making it harder for some veterans to find a post close to home, Wilken said.
Charitable gaming is a half-billion-dollar industry in Indiana, according to Tait. The American Legion is missing out on a funding source that could help improve the lives of Hoosier veterans, Wilken said.
She explained that the money received through gaming events has always been returned to the community in some fashion through programs for vets.
“Our membership’s spending money and our organization is the way that we help our local communities. So, that’s why you see us here wanting to be able to pay our bingo workers, wanting to be able to add other charitable gaming enhancements to our program. So, we can continue to use that charitable gaming money in our local communities,” Wilken said.
State Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, discussed fear that some people might steal from the charitable gambling events for their own personal gain. Wilken assured her that if that were to happen action would be taken.
Thw committee agreed that something should be done about the issue. They will be meeting over the next two weeks to discuss ways to improve charitable gambling.
Tait told the committee that her agency will be making recommendations to revise Indiana’s charitable gaming laws in the 2019 legislative session.