Couple wants to bring electronic bingo to Hartselle
By Deangelo McDaniel
HARTSELLE — A Cullman couple wants to carry “bingo to the next level” in Hartselle, their attorney said.
Cullman attorney Gregory Johnson said he will file an application asking the city to give his clients a permit to offer electronic bingo in Hartselle.
Did someone say bingo?
Including Hartselle, there are three municipalities in Morgan County where bingo is played.
In Decatur, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4190, American Legion Post 15, Knights of Columbus and the Elks Lodge have bingo permits.
In Falkville, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10774 has a permit.
In Hartselle, American Legion Post 52 is the only nonprofit organization with a permit.
His clients are Rick and Annette Graveman. They operated sweepstakes games until a unanimous Alabama Supreme Court ruled the machines illegal in December 2006.
Johnson said the Gravemans are not bringing gambling to Hartselle.
“We want to bring a game that has been enjoyed by a lot of organizations to a faster-paced world,” he said.
“We want to bring the game of bingo to the next level with the use of computers. We don’t want to worry about passing out bingo cards.”
American Legion Post 52 on Sparkman Street is the only organization with a bingo license in Hartselle.
Mayor Dwight Tankersley said he hasn’t talked with Johnson or his clients. But, if the couple complies with the city’s ordinance, the Bingo Committee will have to issue the Gravemans an operating license, he said.
“He has requested an application, and we will be sending him one,” the mayor said.
Tankersley said the city’s ordinance requires an applicant to be a nonprofit established under the federal 501(c)(3) statute. The organization must own a building in Hartselle or have rented or leased one for no less than three years, he said.
Johnson disagrees with the mayor’s interpretation of the ordinance.
He said the Gravemans can obtain the license as long as they are supported by a nonprofit organization like the Red Cross or a church.
“The person doing the application does not have to be situated in Hartselle, but the organization has to have been established there,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the Gravemans may form a limited liability corporation with multiple charities in Hartselle.
He said his clients looked at other places to start electronic bingo, including Blount, Marshall and Cullman counties.
But Morgan County, he noted, is one of 13 counties and/or cities in the state where the Alabama Constitution permits local governments to authorize bingo without further action by the Legislature.
As for proceeds from electronic bingo, Hartselle’s existing ordinance allows bingo operators to use 25 percent of the proceeds for expenses.
At the request of American Legion Post 52 chaplain Bill Partridge, a council majority has agreed to increase this to 51 percent.
In an Aug. 13 council meeting, Partridge said Post 52 is losing money because of bingo expenses.
He said electric bills cost the post between $1,500 and $1,800 every quarter. The organization’s education trust fund has declined from $125,000 to $84,000.
Johnson said his clients plan to spend what the ordinance requires on charitable and nonprofit organizations.
But, the couple will pay themselves a fee for maintaining and operating the electronic bingo machines, he said.
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