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Missouri Amendment 4 would change laws governing bingo gaming

Missouri Amendment 4 would change laws governing bingo gaming

October 8th, 2018 by Philip Joens in News

Representatives of two local groups said they support proposed constitutional changes to laws governing bingo gaming in Missouri.

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In May, Missouri's General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution 59, which proposed changes to laws governing bingo gaming in the Missouri Constitution. The Legislature sent the measure to voters for approval in the Nov. 6 election.

Missouri Amendment 4 would change Missouri's Constitution by removing a prohibition against bingo advertising that a federal court found unenforceable.

The amendment also would allow members of licensed groups to manage bingo games after just six months in a group. Currently members must wait two years before they can manage bingo games.

Philip Kalaf, commander of the Basinger/Sone Memorial VFW Post 1003 in St. Martins, said VFW members often lose interest in running bingo games after waiting two years from the time they join the organization. The VFW post often lacks volunteers to run the games, Kalaf said.

"It hurts staffing to run the games because two years from now, they're gone," Kalaf said. "We have no way to get them involved in our organization. It doesn't make any sense."

The VFW post is one of four licensed bingo game entities in Jefferson City. The Jefferson City Housing Authority, the Oliver Buehrle Disabled American Veterans Chapter 17 and the St. Martins Knights of Columbus have the other bingo licenses in Jefferson City.

Housing Authority Executive Director Cynthia Quetsch said the Housing Authority often relies on older volunteers to run its games. Some aging members of the Housing Authority lose their mobility or become too sick to run games as they wait through the two-year requirement, she said.

"It would make it easier to get volunteers if the waiting period was only six months," Quetsch said.

In 1980, voters authorized the state to create licensed bingo gaming through a constitutional amendment. That amendment allowed religious, charitable, fraternal or veterans organizations to hold licensed bingo games. Thirteen years later, the Missouri Gaming Commission was established to regulate gambling on casino boats.

Kalaf said the Missouri General Assembly was scared in 1980 about the influence of illegal activity as the state legalized its first form of gaming.

"Times have changed, but that never has," Kalaf said.

The VFW post holds bingo games at 1 p.m. each Saturday and serves as the group's biggest fundraiser. Typically, Kalaf said, playing 20 games costs about $24 and lasts about three hours.

An estimated 80-120 people show up on regular days. More people come out on days with large pots, Kalaf said.

Typically the VFW post promotes bingo games through newspaper advertisements, Kalaf said.

The 1980 amendment prohibited licensed organizations from advertising bingo games except on the premises of organizations hosting the games. A 1998 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri declared that part of the 1980 amendment unenforceable. If passed, Amendment 4 would remove that language from Missouri's Constitution.

No political action committees supporting or opposing Amendment 4 have been formed, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Amendment 4 needs a simple majority of voters to pass. Still, voters twice rejected making similar changes.

In 1990, Missouri's General Assembly sent a constitutional amendment to the ballot that would have decreased the waiting period to six months. About 53 percent of voters rejected that amendment. Ten years later, 67 percent of voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have decreased the waiting period to six months.

Kalaf hopes voters will pass the changes in November.

"I'm pretty optimistic," Kalaf said.