Thursday, November 11, 2010

City Targets 'Illicit Gambling Operation'

By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Owners of a large concrete building on San Pablo Avenue at Gilman Street in Berkeley likely will lose their permit to run charity bingo games at a site described by one official as "an illicit gambling operation.''
The council will vote on a resolution at its Nov. 16 meeting to revoke the permit of the George F. McDermott and the McDermott Family Limited Partnership to use their 10,000 square-foot-building at 1284 San Pablo Avenue for bingo.
In July, the city shut down a charity bingo operation running out of the San Pablo building that officials estimate brought in at least $10 million in revenue from July 2009 to July 2010.
Officials have no evidence that the bingo game, working under the charity Youth Actors Company, ever donated any of the profits from the estimated $10 million to a charity.
"Twelve eighty four San Pablo Avenue wasn't a bingo hall, it was an illicit gambling operation,'' said Berkeley Code Enforcement Supervisor Gregory Daniel.
City and state laws require bingo halls to contribute any profits to charities. In Berkeley, those charities are required to have offices and do their work out of the same location as the bingo games.
Neither the owners of the building nor any neighbors showed up to a public hearing Nov. 9 to talk about the permit revocation.
The owner of the building was not available for comment Wednesday.
But during a Sept. 23 hearing before the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board
a representative of the owner, Frank Ennix, said the owner was aware of "transgressions" at the bingo hall, but that the landlord could make sure "that those who are operating it see to it that the funds go to the Berkeley community."
Ennix declined to comment on the possible closure Wednesday.
The board was unmoved and recommended the City Council take away the permit.
For the last 24 years, charity bingo has been the business inside the building, but according to a city report, it's not likely any money went to any charity organizations or benefitted in any way from the crowds who came from as far away as Reno to play there.
Since 1986, 35 non profit organizations have run bingo out of the San Pablo hall.
The city report said "we have found no record that any of the above nonprofit bingo operators maintained offices at the bingo facility nor has staff found any record that they used the bingo facility to perform the duties for which the non profit was created."
When the City Council votes on the resolution to revoke the permit of the building owners Nov. 16, future bingo parlors will be better regulated, Daniel said.
"We have a new ordinance in Berkeley that says any non profit that wants to operate bingo will have to show it is a qualified non profit that has been operating in Berkeley for at least 12 months," Daniel said.
"Your records will show a tenant history in Berkeley, some sort of activity there and we may very well do a site visit to prove it."
In addition to not donating to charity or housing charity offices in the bingo hall, the building's owners had a variety of other violations including charging too much rent, allowing bingo operators to award prizes of over $250 and not keeping a list of winners, the report stated.
In the September hearing before the city Zoning Adjustments Board, owners of a restaurant across the street testified that they had observed "rampant drug dealing" and "near riots" in the parking lot off and on for at least the last 10 years.
In the report, Berkeley police confirmed their "descriptions of the problems with drugs and late night noise at the facility."

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