March 10, 2006

Charitable gaming oversight transferred to Indiana Gaming Commission

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

As the weather warms and churches begin planning for festivals, parishes will likely obtain their licenses for charity gaming activities from a new source—the Indiana Gaming Commission.

The Indiana General Assembly is likely to approve a proposal this year to transfer the oversight of charity gaming from the Indiana Department of Revenue to the Indiana Gaming Commission.

While the original bill, House Bill 1396, authored by Rep. Matt Whetstone (R-Brownsburg), addressed transferring charity gaming from Indiana’s Revenue Department to Indiana’s Gaming Commission, several other ideas brought forward by individuals from the Catholic community have been added to make charitable gaming—especially at parish functions—easier.

“House Bill 1396 came from an efficiency study conducted by Gov. [Mitch] Daniel’s administration, which indicated that charity gaming had the lowest efficiency score of Indiana’s programs,” Whetstone said. “The goal of House Bill 1396 is to improve oversight and create more efficiency.”

Indianapolis attorney William Wood, who provides legal counsel to the Indiana Catholic Conference, prepared an amendment to the bill to benefit Catholic school parents.

“The amendment was very short, only one sentence, but has a very important impact for our community,” said Wood. “Officials at the Indiana Department of Revenue have refused to recognize school parents or parent organizations as members of the school when they want to work at a school event.”

Wood explained that the Indiana Department of Revenue was requiring parents to file separately to volunteer at an event.

“The law from day one said that only school members could work at an event,” said Wood, but the Indiana Department of Revenue became “too technical” in its interpretation and definition.

“After all these years, the state will now recognize the parents of a school as school members for the purposes of charity gaming,” Wood said.

Another aspect of charity gaming to be improved this year is the tedious task of collecting Social Security numbers from all volunteers at a parish event. The concern was raised by a parishioner from St. Mary Parish in Ireland, Ind., and another from St. Peter Parish in Celestine, Ind., both in the Evansville Diocese, who thought the problem should be addressed.

Both parishes are in Dubois County, part of Rep. David Crooks’ district (D-Washington). Crooks took these concerns and had House Bill 1149 drafted, which requires only the principle organizers of the event and those handling the money to turn in their Social Security numbers on the charity gaming application.

“St. Mary’s in Ireland holds a huge annual picnic drawing thousands of people. I’ve attended it many times,” Crooks said. “Organizers told me that they were having a tough time because, under charitable gaming laws, everyone who volunteers at the event must turn in their Social Security number.”

Crooks said that the reason the state wants Social Security numbers is to conduct criminal background checks. State law prohibits convicted felons from working at gaming events.

“It’s a bit silly and pretty unlikely that a felon is going to be volunteering at one of these events, and the likelihood [is] remote that they would be handling the funds,” Crooks said. “This change in the law just makes good common sense.”

The language from House Bills 1396 and 1149 were amended into another charity gaming bill, Senate Bill 100, which is expected to pass this year.

Sen. Robert Jackman (R-Milroy), the author of Senate Bill 100, said, “My daughter-in-law who attends St. Mary’s [Parish] in Rushville, told me about the challenges parish organizers faced every time they wanted to hold a raffle. She told me that sometimes they would even have to have someone drive to Indianapolis the day before the event to get the license.”

Senate Bill 100 allows a qualified organization to hold five raffles per calendar year with only one license.

“This is just a good way to streamline government,” Jackman said.

Ernie Yelton, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, said his goal in overseeing charitable gaming is to “weed out the people who are illegally involved in charitable gaming and strictly enforce [the laws].”

“We need to beef up public awareness in the area of charity gaming, too,” he added. “There are a lot of groups conducting charity gaming that are not licensed based on a lack of knowledge, not because of criminal intent.”

Yelton said that he wants to work with and assist groups who are involved in authentic charity gaming.

“I’m not going to go out to churches with handcuffs, but with an application form,” he said.

The gross receipts from charity gaming in Indiana for 2005 are estimated to be between $500 million and $600 million. The Indiana Department of Revenue issues about 2,100 bingo licenses annually, state officials said.

Senate Bill 100, which is expected to become law, will go into effect on July 1. Prior to that, parishes will continue to obtain charity gaming licenses from the Indiana Department of Revenue.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.) †


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