HARRISBURG — The question of what exactly constitutes a game of bingo is at the heart of the recent ruling by the state Commonwealth Court.
The Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement appealed a ruling by the Court of Common Pleas of Carbon County, which held that Legion Post 304 Home Association conducted games of small chance after its licenses had expired in violation of bingo law and the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act.
The dispute began in April 2013 when Pennsylvania State Police Officer William J. Rosenstock went to the Legion Post 304 undercover. He bought two Bonanza Bingo tickets. According to court testimony, “the bartender explained how to play." Officer Rosenstock didn’t win a prize.
The officer returned to conduct an inspection in August and noted that the establishment's licenses for small games of chance and bingo had expired.
The trial court affirmed the decision of the Liquor Control Board and said that “Bonanza Bingo” was, in fact, a lawful form of bingo. The state police appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that “Bonanza Bingo” is not a lawful form of bingo.
The Commonwealth Court agreed with the board and trial court.
“Unlike a pull-tab game, Bonanza Bingo does not have a pre-determined winner that depends on the master card," the appeals court said in its opinion.
"In addition, unlike a pull-tab ticket, when the player opens a Bonanza Bingo ticket, he does not know immediately whether he has won or lost. Rather, the player must 'play' the game by comparing the numbers on the master card with the numbers appearing on his Bonanza Bingo card, as a player must do when bingo is played in the more traditional announced form... Bonanza Bingo, albeit atypical, meets the statutory definition of 'bingo.'"
The administrative law judge assessed a penalty of $704 against the Legion Post 304 for the license violation.