Bingo! Legal Technicality Trumps State Regulation
By Guy Clark, executive director N.M. Coalition Against Gambling
Chairman of National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling
June 18, 2004

Some of the giants of slot machine manufacturing are developing new and radically innovative slot machines that would capitalize on legal technicalities to provide jackpots for casinos and fraternal organizations.

To the gambler, the machines look and play like the banks of regulated and taxed Class III slot machines. But the new machines are engineered to meet many states' statutory definitions for less-regulated and lightly taxed bingo.

The state Legislative Finance Committee met recently to consider the impact of such machines on tribal gambling. The committee should cast a much wider net: Video bingo machines can have a much wider application than tribal gambling alone.

Wyoming, West Virginia, Utah and other states have seen social clubs and bingo halls introduce video bingo machines to increase the gambling income of the organization, and skirt legal prohibitions against traditional slot machines.

As is quoted in the May 23, 2004 Gambling Magazine, "The one common element to all these inventions is the drive to have gaming devices that play like modern slot machines, without actually being slot machines. Video bingo machines, for example, now can display the exact same symbols as casino slot machines; but the actual game being played must meet the legal definition of bingo."

The New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling has had legal counsel look at the New Mexico Bingo and Raffle Act to see how tight the definitions have been drawn for the "legal definition of bingo."

It appears that the definitions are pretty clear and straightforward. However, the attorney general and the Legislature better have them looked at from every angle, because it is certain that there are those businesses and organizations in the state that would love to find a loose clause that they could use to justify operating Class II bingo machines at their clubs.

Their reasons for wanting to operate such machines are compelling. Right now bingo halls are required to render 3 percent of their revenue to the state. And getting permission for operating bingo halls from the state is fairly easy.

Non-profits that operate Class III video slot machines have to pay the state 25 percent, getting licenses to operate them is much more difficult, and regulation is much more stringent.

The Legislature better be completely certain it has its bingo definitions down so tight and springy that there is no possibility of these outfits slipping slot-look-alike bingo machines into their halls.

Many states were certain they knew what constituted Class III slot machines at tribal casinos, only to find out that electronic gambling devices that looked and played almost identical to Class III slots would be approved as Class II gaming devices by the federal courts.

And while they are tightening up definitions, they ought to look at the lottery and racetracks for future reference. Many states have morphed their paper lotteries into video lottery terminals. Many VLTs provide poker, blackjack and crazy eights— again, for all practical purposes, identical with casino-style video slot machines, but technically not classified as slot machines.

Other states allow their racetracks to operate OTBs, off track betting parlors, where the patrons can bet not only on the day's state run races and simulcasts from other states' tracks, but also operate slot-like machines that provide "instant races," betting on eight to 10 races a minute.

As usual, the gambling "industry" never has "enough." We should expect the tribes, the bingo halls, the social clubs, the veterans and fraternal organizations, the tracks and the lottery to attempt to take advantage of the legal haze that hangs over slot-like machines, and expand wherever they can get away with it.

The state needs to prepare by tightening up its laws on electronic gambling devices and prosecuting those that violate those laws to the fullest extent of the law