Politics & Government

August 13, 2014

Change is coming to Texas bingo halls

Despite concerns from gambling opponents, state officials approve a plan to make it easier for customers to play more games, more easily — thus raising more money for charities.

Bingo in Texas is about to get a digital supercharge.

The Texas Lottery Commission gave the green light Tuesday to upgrading so-called card minders, small devices that “mind” electronic versions of paper bingo cards, to let players buy games faster.

“This creates an opportunity for them to bank their money and purchase quickly a product,” said Stephen Fenoglio, an Austin-based attorney for Texas charities who was among those asking for the change.

The change calls for new software to be added to existing card minders to let players buy games electronically when playing bingo, rather than going to the cash register each time they want more games.

Critics, worried that the proposal could expand gambling in the state, were somewhat mollified by the addition of language to ensures that the changes will not allow video confirmation — which they fear would let electronic devices act like slot machines — on the card minders.

“Our No. 1 concern was the introduction of instant electronic gaming on card-minding devices,” said Rob Kohler, a consultant with the Austin-based Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which opposes increased gambling. “They added language prohibiting the video confirmation. That’s what we wanted.”

Next up, manufacturers will produce software to allow changes in card minders that must be approved by the Lottery Commission. After the software is approved, it will be installed in the thousands of card minders used in bingo halls statewide.

Fenoglio said the software could be up and running within six months.

“This is something our charities are asking for and it’s good for them,” said Commission Chairman J. Winston Krause, who approved the change along with Commissioners Mary Ann Williamson and Jodie Baggett.

Commissioner John W. Townes III did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Previous problems

The card minder proposal was slowed this year because it came up at the same time as a plan to let bingo halls use electronic devices similar to slot machines that opponents feared would expand gambling.

Critics have said they fear “video confirmation” — which would show whether paper pull-tab tickets, which are similar to lottery scratch-off tickets, are winners are losers — would give Texans a casino-like experience playing on machines that could use the sounds and symbols traditionally found on slot machines. Video confirmation would electronically play out the win or loss of the pull-tab tickets.

The commission delayed voting on both proposals, submitted this year by K&B Sales and the Veterans of Foreign Wars-Department of Texas, after concern erupted about letting bingo players use video confirmation. No plans have been made public to revive the video confirmation proposal.

Critics have long said the issue of video confirmation should be decided by the Legislature, not the Lottery Commission, which oversees charitable bingo.

Regarding the change to card minders, Kohler asked this month that the measure include language specifically stating that it does not include options for video confirmation, a request that was granted.

“These rules before you [Tuesday] have nothing to do with video confirmation,” stressed James Person, assistant general counsel for the commission. “We added language that expressly prohibits video confirmation on card minders.”

Lottery staff told commissioners that they received letters from state Reps. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, supporting adoption of the rules.

Geren and Thompson serve on the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee, which has oversight over a number of state agencies including the Lottery Commission.

“Our ear is always tuned to what the Legislature is doing because we get all our authority from the legislature,” Krause said.

Upcoming changes

Approval of the card-minding proposal lets charities set up customer accounts that allow players to buy bingo products such as games.

Bingo players would still go to a cashier at the bingo hall and pay a certain amount. In turn, they would receive a card minder, a handheld device already in use at many bingo halls, with the amount they paid installed on it.

The change will let bingo players buy more cards — up to the amount they prepay — through the card minders instead of going to the cashier each time they want more games.

Any winnings from the electronic games would be paid in cash, just like payments for any other winning game.

With this change, some predict that sales at bingo halls using card minders could increase 3 to 10 percent, providing more of a benefit to Texas charities.

Fenoglio stressed how this system will help charities with accounting and auditing.

“Charities will have enhanced oversight,” he said. “This will allow charities to utilize technology that is available to businesses today.

“It will not expand gaming in Texas,” he said.

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos