Politics & Government

May 13, 2014

Interim leader tabbed for Texas bingo

Texas lottery commissioners begin the search for a permanent director of charitable bingo operations.

Texas lottery commissioners have named an acting director of the state’s charitable bingo operations and agreed to move forward with a plan to help restructure the way they do business.

During a brief teleconference meeting this week, the commissioners unanimously chose Debbie Parpounas, a bingo audit manager, to serve until a permanent director is hired. They also identified administrative changes that need to take effect.

“The commission is now in the process of posting the director position, and will be seeking qualified applicants for the job,” according to a statement from the Texas Lottery Commission.

This all comes just weeks after lottery officials delayed voting on a controversial plan that could let bingo halls use electronic devices similar to slot machines.

The previous bingo director, Sandra Joseph, resigned.

Commission Chairman J. Winston Krause took time Monday to thank Joseph for her service.

“She has worked for the state of Texas for 35 years — that’s 35 years of great service by a qualified person who has a great attitude,” he said during the meeting. “We were really pleased to have had her work here at the Lottery Commission for the last 10 years.”

He noted that she and others in the department have worked through the activation of a new automated computer system geared “to help us come into the 21st century and become more effective.”

That effort has proved challenging, he said, especially the melding of the old system with the new.

“While we are going to miss Ms. Joseph, I am not surprised that it was something that she was seeing as being very, very difficult and I admire her for sticking with it and [I’m] sorry that’s she’s gone,” Krause said. “In the meantime, this ongoing process of integrating the new system with the old system continues.”

A big business

Bingo, the oldest form of legalized gambling in Texas, is big business.

Lawmakers approved state-regulated bingo in 1981 to raise money for Texas charities, which have received more than $1 billion through the game, reports show.

In 2011, bingo sales in Texas reached an all-time high, topping $700 million, and more than $533 million was paid to players, according to the most recent annual report from the charitable bingo operations division of the Lottery Commission.

Workers have reviewed bingo’s business procedures and determined that changes need to be made, affecting areas such as administrative rules and the accounting of how some licensing transactions are recorded.

This week, commissioners approved moving forward with a restructuring project geared toward revamping some business processes and making sure they are up to date with state statutes, rules and accounting principles.

“Some of the business processes currently in place are not in alignment with statutes or some administrative rules, and sometimes with generally … accepted accounting principles,” Darlene Brown, the commission’s internal auditor, told officials during the meeting.

“We believe that a … business processes restructuring project needs to be undertaken immediately,” she said. “This project is going to require extensive time, effort and resources.”

Parpounas told commissioners that she looks forward to the challenge of serving as acting director.

“I appreciate your confidence,” she said. “And I will move toward working with the team and moving the restructure project along.”

Commissioners also created a subcommittee of the commission, made up of Commissioners Mary Ann Williamson and Jodie Baggett, to help oversee the process.

Williamson and Baggett will also spearhead the search for a new director of bingo operations, even conducting interviews to present a slate of the best candidates to the entire commission.

Delayed decision

Last month, the Lottery Commission drew nationwide attention for delaying a decision on a plan to let bingo halls use electronic devices similar to slot machines — which opponents say would expand gambling — after lawmakers and high-ranking Republicans expressed concern.

The plan to allow “video confirmation” of whether paper pull-tab tickets, which are similar to lottery scratch-off tickets, are winners was submitted by K&B Sales and the Veterans of Foreign Wars-Department of Texas.

Commissioners, who stressed that the proposals would not expand gambling, also put off a decision on proposals to allow multiplay pull-tab bingo tickets and to let charities set up accounts for bingo players that can be used to buy pull-tab tickets and other bingo products.

They say that pull-tab tickets would still be printed on paper and that the machines wouldn’t determine the outcome, just display it. They also say the machines — which could range in size from a laptop to a slot machine — would be prevented from simulating dice, rolling or spinning wheels, or “the play of casino-style games.”

Opponents say the machines will look and act much like slot machines, essentially bringing casino-style gambling to Texas. And they believe combining “multiplay” pull-tab bingo tickets with watching the outcome of those games on “video confirmation” could simulate casino gambling.

No date has been set to reconsider the proposal.

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