Debate over impact of for-profit bingo initiative - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Debate over impact of for-profit bingo initiative

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Opposition is growing in the community against a for-profit bingo initiative that will be placed in the hands of voters in the upcoming Decision 2012 General Election. Organizations with non-profit bingo operations are trying to get clarification on what impact the proposal would have on their operations, but backers of the initiative remain silent.

Will the for-profit bingo initiative introduced to island voters several months ago do away with non-profit bingo operations around the island?  The answer depends on who you ask. Guam Election Commission legal counsel Jeff Moots doesn't believe it will, telling KUAM News, "It says it doesn't limit or repeal the other laws and the other law that affects, non-profit bingo is Title IX and it makes no change to that. So what is allowed under Title XI is allowed, even if this passes."

But Committee to Keep Guam Good member and Sinajana mayor-elect Robert Hofmann believes the wording in the initiative makes it clear that bingo would not be allowed anywhere - other than the former Guam Greyhound facility. "So how we read it, how we interpret it, we want to make sure that our interests are protected at the man'amko centers," he stated. "So if our lawyers on our side are saying, 'Yes, it is conflicting' and we will not be able to operate, then we're going to go by that until we can get some other clarification."

Island mayors have expressed concerns and some have drafted a resolution opposing the initiative, believing it would be the demise of a favorite pastime at senior centers and a major fundraiser for various groups.  Organizations like the Guam National Olympic Committee and the Guam National Golf Federation are seeking clarification, as they raise significant money from year-round bingo.  

GNOC member Robert Steffy confirms the organization is trying to determine what impact, if any, the initiative would have on their sports bingo fundraiser that goes to island Olympians. Said Moots, "I think the bigger concern for them is what will the impact be on the business, but it won't make it illegal. It may impact their business, but it won't make it impossible to happen."

Hofmann added, "I understand some of the non-profits are going to be issuing challenges to the initiative, and so they'll be taking that to court. If they're going to write something to the people of Guam, make sure it's well written so we don't have to have questions like this."

KUAM News attempted to get clarity on the issue from the Guam Japan Friendship Village, but the only person identified on incorporation documents filed with the Department of Revenue & Taxation is Attorney Ron Moroni.  Moroni says he doesn't know any specifics about the initiative as he was only asked to file the articles of incorporation.  The group's Julie Dela Torre and John Baldwin - the latter being owner of Bridge Capital and president of Guam Greyhound - have not responded to calls and e-mail for comments.  You may recall Baldwin and bridge capital were behind previous failed efforts to legalize casino gambling on Guam and in several other states including the most recent effort in Washington, DC.

Hofmann said, "They're asking for lifting of so many restrictions on types of machines used for bingo so a lot of the man'amko asking, 'Boy, what kind of bingo is that?' Honestly, we don't know. There's really no face, no person or corporation - they say Japan Friendship Village, but really who is it behind it? It really calls it to question."

With no one answering the questions, island voters will just have to wait for educational material from the GEC to get informed.  Arguments for and against the initiative are due to the Commission by September 22. 

Additionally, Rev & Tax is currently reviewing the initiative to make its determination on the issue.  Under the law, that agency provides licenses to non-profit organizations who want to operate bingo activities.

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