By RUTHANN ALEXANDER
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Marlene McCormick was saddened that her senior-citizens Penny Bingo Club folded because it needed to pay for a permit to operate.
After discovering recently that their club at Robert S. Long Apartments must pay a $450 fee to the state, McCormick knew the group would not likely continue.
The club members gathered for one final meeting last month and decided they will no longer get together for weekly bingo.
“It’s a sin because that’s your only enjoyment when you get old,” McCormick said.
While the money for the fee would not have come out of the seniors’ pockets, it would have had to be taken from club funding, which is pegged for other activities, such as lunch.
Lee Park, director of communications at the New York State Gaming Commission, said the law would requires that this group pay $18.75 every time it holds penny bingo. Because penny bingo is a game of chance, it must be regulated as accordance with New York law, Park said.
Plattsburgh Housing Authority Executive Director Lori Cantwell said it is her understanding that the club shut down because the rules of compliance were more complex than members wanted to deal with.
It was not so much the cost as the complexity of the laws surrounding bingo that deterred the group from complying further, she said.
The New York State Gaming Commission’s website says free bingo is the only kind that can be played without a license.
Bingo can be played in a private home or residential complex. A certified charitable organization, such as a church, can conduct a game of free bingo.
It must be played without cash prizes. However, other items may be offered as prizes, as long as their cost does not exceed $10 each.
Penny bingo is not a game where one can win large sums of money, club member Lucille Wilkins noted. When someone wins, she or he earns pennies, which may go back into the next game or be kept by the players.
Wilkins said they were not given prior warning before Julie Walters, a coordinator from the Housing Authority, arrived to tell them they had to obtain a permit.
“I’ve been playing bingo for 32 years, and I can’t see why we need to pay a state tax to play,” Wilkins said.
She speculates that someone complained about them playing bingo because otherwise no one would know.
Ruby Hughes was a member of the club for 14 years, and she was upset after the decision was made to fold the group.
“It made me feel bad. We had such a good crowd.”
Wilkins said all of the bingo machines were moved to Russell H. Barnard Apartments, so the seniors in Long Apartments have only Keno now.
“I think it’s wrong,” she said. “After all these years, I can’t imagine why they would do this to us.”TO LEARN MORE To view conditions for playing free and other types of bingo, visit the New York State Gaming Commission's website: gaming.ny.gov/