A simmering controversy involving lucrative bingo operations in the city boiled over this week when the city proposed reducing the hours of play, limiting the number of players and imposing a 1% tax on monthly gross income over $5,000.
In favor of introducing the staff proposal as an ordinance were Mayor Sylvia Muise and Councilwoman Kay Calas, with Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt opposed and Mayor Pro Tem Thomas Mills abstaining. Mills said he abstained because he is on the executive board of the United Holy Church, which runs a bingo operation.
Councilman Jake Egan was absent, as he has been for most of the meetings since his conviction in July on mail fraud and extortion charges.
City Atty. Glenn Watson informed the council after the vote that although the two-vote plurality could serve to introduce the ordinance, three votes--a majority of the five-member board--would be required for final passage at the next council meeting Oct. 6.
The proposal came as city officials released sketchy information on a nine-month investigation into bingo operations run by the Community Development Center, a nonprofit group that runs one of the best-attended games in the city.
City Administrator John Dangleis said in an interview that the city had prepared an outside audit of the center's games but he declined to say what the audit found or to release a copy.
After the meeting, Mills said that the city's examination of bingo operations at the Community Development Center was prompted by allegations that its operators had engaged in a practice called skimming: allotting for expenses more than the maximum 20% of gross receipts allowed by state law.
Walter Clark, the center's executive director, said he had not received a copy of the audit and did not know what it said, and he denied skimming funds. He asserted that he was singled out by the city because his operation is "too big, too popular."
His games, now running Thursday nights and weekend afternoons, draw 325 to 350 people and gross $14,000 for each four-hour session, Clark said. The operation nets $300,000 to $400,000 a year after paying prizes and expenses, he said.
Carson's problems with bingo began soon after the city's bingo regulation ordinance, drafted as a fund-raising mechanism for local churches, charitable and nonprofit organizations and clubs, was adopted in May, 1978.
"As the number of bingo operators and participants increased," city Finance Director William Parrott wrote in a report to the council in November, 1984, "so did complaints alleging misuse of bingo proceeds . . . cheating, operating in excess of time permitted by (the) ordinance and operating on unauthorized days. While some of the allegations could not be substantiated, many were found to be legitimate complaints."
Mills said in an interview that the complaints have continued, with many about the larger bingo games. "The promoters of games with more than 100 (players) are allowing it to go further than the original ordinance planned," he said.
The proposed ordinance would limit the number of players per game to 100.
However, speakers at Monday's meeting, backed by about 50 supporters, pleaded for continued permission to run games with more than 100 in attendance, saying that the bingo proceeds support worthwhile projects that the city could not otherwise afford.
List of Donations
Clark said his organization donated $40,000 last year to outside groups, including Banning High School, Carson High School, the city's Rose Bowl float and the city Chamber of Commerce Miss Carson Pageant. He said the center's own programs, also supported by bingo, provide 50 summer jobs for youth, year-round work for hard-to-employ people and low-cost child care for 40 welfare and low-income parents.
"I have 65 people who work for me, people who are not on the unemployment rolls, people (the city) can't hire. We're sending five people to school," he said.
"To support the program, bingo has been the mechanism to do that. We are not at City Hall asking for money."
Myron Thompson, program director of the United Samoan Congregational Christian Church of the South Bay Area, told the council that "this (100-player) limitation is going to jeopardize our existence in the city."
He said later that the church bingo operation takes in about $675,000 a year in after-prize income and typically draws between 275 and 300 people.
Thompson, whose operation Mills identified as one that city officials were investigating, acknowledged that city officials had complained that his church was sending some of the bingo money to Samoa. He said the money was sent to Tafuna in American Samoa to build an occupational training center.
Restricted to City
A provision in the proposed ordinance would require that half of the bingo proceeds going to charity be spent in Carson.
Loretta Consalvo, speaking on behalf of the St. Philomena School bingo operation, asked the council not to lump the majority with "a few bingo operators (who) are not adhering to the ordinance. Don't punish the many because of the few."
She said that the new restrictions "would greatly curtail" school activities supported by bingo proceeds.
A letter was read from an elderly woman who said she played at a game conducted for senior citizens and considered it therapy.
Al Teofilo, saying he represented bingo players, declared that he would rather spend his money in Carson but might begin patronizing bingo operations outside the city if there were too many restrictions.
"As a player, I have a right to choose," he said.
City officials estimated that the proposed 1% tax would generate about $100,000 a year in revenues for the city.