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State Journal:How do you spell trouble? B-I-N-G-O

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Catholic schools in Tennessee say they stand to lose millions of dollars in revenues if a state-court ruling declaring bingo games unconstitutional is allowed to stand.

Acting in a case that stemmed from the secretary of state's attempt to revoke a Kingsport AMVETS post's bingo permit, a state chancery court held on March 11 that lawmakers had no right in 1972 to allow charities to run the popular game of chance because the state constitution prohibits lotteries.

"A lottery is no less a lottery if proceeds are used for charitable purposes,'' Judge Irvin H. Kilcrease Jr. wrote.

The judge has directed the state attorney general, who had argued that bingo was unconstitutional, to draft an order to implement his ruling.

If the court's ruling is upheld on appeal, the state's Catholic schools would find themselves in serious financial straits, church officials say.

"Here, we're talking about $1.5 million in school revenues annually,'' said Gary Honnert, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, which has 12 schools with a total enrollment of about 4,000.

"No one really wants to be in the bingo business, but there are schools that rely on it very heavily,'' he said.

The court ruling comes at a time when committees in the House and Senate are investigating allegations that professional gamblers are running sham "charitable'' bingo games.

According to United Press International, last year bingo operators statewide collected $47.6 million but spent only $994,000, or 2 percent, on charity. About $35 million, it said, was spent on prizes, with the rest used for salaries and other expenses.

Although they agree that abuses are occurring, Catholic church officials in Memphis say that about one-third of their bingo receipts are used for church and school purposes.

This month, a special House subcommittee formed to look into the matter approved legislation that would stiffen existing bingo regulations.

In part, the bill would: require that prizes greater than $200 be paid by check; allow groups to hold games only three days a week and only 150 days a year; mandate that at least 25 percent of a group's bingo receipts go to a tax-exempt organization or be used for the purpose for which the operating group was founded; and require that no more than 50 percent of the proceeds go toward prizes.

A bill that would disallow bingo is being readied in each chamber should the reform effort fail.--T.M.

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