The Barona Indian Reservation's bingo hall, which once served 2,000 players every day, has been forced to close in the wake of an October raid by San Diego County sheriff's deputies, an official acknowledged Thursday.
Financial problems caused by the confiscation of bingo gaming machines forced the popular hall's closure Dec. 16, Lalit Malik, a manager for Inland Casino Corp., which operates a card room on the reservation, said Thursday.
"The bingo portion is closed, but the card room is still open because they are run by different corporations," Malik said. "The loss of the machines has affected the bingo and the card room as well."
At least 90 bingo gaming machines were confiscated from Barona by San Diego County sheriffs in a raid Oct. 30, along with 146 machines from the Viejas Indian Reservation bingo hall and 52 from the Sycuan Indian Reservation. Patrons play individual games of bingo on the slot-machine type apparatuses.
The raid followed an opinion from state Atty. Gen. Daniel Lungren's office that the bingo machines were illegal.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Marilyn L. Huff in San Diego issued a preliminary injunction blocking authorities from prosecuting tribal officials on three Indian reservations but refused to order a return of the 280 confiscated gaming devices and prohibited the Indians from installing new ones.
The two other reservations have continued operating their bingo halls, despite the loss of revenue from the machines. But the closure of the Barona bingo hall meant the layoff of 90 employees there, said Mark Preston, casino manager for the Barona Reservation. "We're still attempting to get the machines back," Preston said.
Art Bunce, an attorney for the Barona and Viejas reservations, said in November that the three tribes were losing more than $7,000 a day by being denied the machines, on which bettors insert $1 to $20 to play video versions of poker, keno, bingo and other games.
"It's the difference between profit and loss," Bunce said.
When Sheriff's Department officials opened the machines confiscated from all three reservations, they found a total of $28,000 inside, though they had expected more, said Deputy Pearl M. Janulewicz.
The Barona bingo hall has been closed several times over the years. New owner National Gaming Co. took over the operation in October, shortly before the raid.