FW: no more bingo :(
- You all probably knew this, but it's the first I'd heard.
From: Karen Hyde [mailto:khyde@...]
Sent: Thursday, September 02, 2004 9:12 AM
To: Hank Hauffe; kvargas@...
Subject: no more bingo :(
Sept. 2, 2004, 12:21AM
State has their number, so bingo nights end
Band leaves a tradition behind after being told that it's illegal
By DAVID KAPLAN
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
Between the third and seventh grades, David Beebe, leader of the pop band
the El Orbits, bought 45s at Houston record stores and often found himself
liking the B-side more than the hit song.
A B-side kind of guy, he prefers RC Cola and wears Buddy Holly glasses.
But the best example of his B-sided worldview has been Monday Night Bingo
at the Continental Club in Midtown.
They've been laid-back, tongue-in-cheek events featuring his band's music,
"bingo girls" calling out numbers and gag prizes like Pez dispensers. But
the Texas Lottery Commission has told Beebe that his bingo is illegal, a
third-degree felony. Monday Night Bingo is no more.
After getting the news several weeks ago, the El Orbits stopped bingo. On
Monday they lit the big bingo board for the last time and said goodbye to
a beloved tradition.
A form of gambling
Monday Night Bingo regulars are incredulous, but the commission says the
law is the law. Bingo is a form of gambling.
Bingo has taken place every Monday evening since the Continental Club
opened four years ago, and previously the El Orbits hosted the same event
for three years at the defunct Satellite Lounge.
Monday Night Bingo has never been about gambling or money, Beebe
maintained more a celebration of "kitsch."
Conventional bingo, he said, is "an old-folks game where blue-hairs sit in
a bingo hall all day with their good-luck charms. They bring their $20 and
hope to make some money."
Beebe wanted to give audiences the feel of "the bingo you played as a
His band would play a few songs, pause for jokes and bingo, then return to
the music. At some point, his eccentric uncle Don Lee got on stage to read
For charitable groups only
Monday Night Bingo was "such a fun and innocent activity. A lot of people
met and married there," said Bob Schultz, one of the Continental Club's
"You feel frustration and anger, but after a while you give up because
there's really not much you can do about it."
That's because the state's Bingo Enabling Act authorizes bingo for
nonprofits and charitable organizations only, and even those groups must
have a license, said Billy Atkins, director of the charitable bingo
operations division at the Texas Lottery Commission.
In fact, Section 2001.551b of the Bingo Enabling Act notes that it is
illegal to conduct bingo without a license, even for free.
Although there are exemptions, Atkins said. A person can play bingo in his
house if no more than 15 people play and prizes are nominal.
There are also exemptions for veterans and seniors groups. Newspapers are
allowed to offer "promotional bingo" games.
No plan to fight case
The Texas Lottery Commission is not authorized to take action against the
"We just told them what they're doing is against the law and subject to
the prosecutor," Atkins said.
Beebe does not plan to force the issue. It's not worth fighting a
potential felony charge, he said.
IIlegal bingo "probably occurs a lot more times than we're aware of,"
Atkins said. Three to five times a year, the commission will discover an
establishment that hosts illegal bingo in Texas.
The El Orbits have also held bingo nights in Austin and San Antonio. Three
years ago, the commission told them to stop the Austin bingo nights, but
the band continued after forging an alliance with a nursing home in the
The commission later informed Beebe that such an exemption only applies to
bingo inside a nursing home.
Diversion helps kill time
The El Orbits and bingo have been inseparable. Beebe formed the band in
1997 when he managed the Satellite Lounge. Initially, the group was short
on songs, so they offered bingo to kill time.
It was meant to be temporary, but after seeing how much people enjoyed it,
the house band realized it could not, in Beebe's words, kill the goose
that laid the golden egg.
The El Orbits' slogan became "Bingo every Monday night for the rest of
your life," and fans took them up on it.
"Some nights you couldn't move, it was so crowded," said band member Pete
Gordon. Bingo nights averaged 100 people.
Regular Caroline Newman, a teacher, noted that "Monday's a rough day, the
start of the week," and the bingo night was a great stress reliever. Jonas
Chartock, executive director of Teach for America, Houston, was angry
about what he sees as a double standard:
"A state lottery that seeps money from people who can't afford it, and
this band is here to make people happy. They're playing for free, and
that's the illegal thing?"
Ban forces a regroup
The bingo ban is causing the El Orbits to regroup, because the game has
been "a major part of our identity," Beebe said.
The band will go into hibernation for three months. Beebe's plan is to
return with a wider array of music.
"A lot of people come here to to dance, and they're interrupted by the
bingo," he noted. "We'll learn 40 more songs and search the Internet to
find Houston people who are into learning dances. They can get free dance
lessons and no bingo."
Beebe seems more upbeat than many of his bingo night regulars.
At the last Monday Night Bingo, regular James Glassman, an architect, was
handing out his homemade black armbands that read "Bingo is B9."
The El Orbits played only requests that night, including The Candy Man,
Theme From The Love Boat and I Fought the Law.
The last song, as it was at every Monday Night Bingo, was King of the
Road. Like the man in the song, Beebe knows it's time to move on.
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