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July 5, 2012

GBC bingo hall investigation continues

Athens — GUN BARREL CITY — County and city law enforcement officials are busy wrapping up their case against the Golden Belle Bingo Hall, which was raided on June 28.

Gun Barrel City Chief of Police Damon Boswell and Investigator Monte Mansfield are expected to wind up their work on the case sometime next week.

Those findings will then be turned over to the Henderson County District Attorney's office, which, in turn, is expected to turn the evidence over to a Grand Jury.

Law officers from Gun Barrel City, the Henderson County Sheriff's Department, the county and district attorney’s offices seized  98 “gambling devices,” and a huge list of other supplies at the Golden Belle Bingo Hall at the raid.

The affidavit describes the location  at 1100 West Main St. in Gun Barrel City, as the “suspected place” — for “keeping a gambling place,”  “possession of a gambling device,” and “possession of gambling paraphernalia,” in violation of the Texas Penal Code.

A search warrant, the result of the detailed 9-page, single-spaced affidavit, signed by  Investigator Aviant Mansfield of the Gun Barrel City Police Department,  enabled law officers to seize items throughout the night.

Books, records, pull tabs, gift certificates, money orders, payout schedules, tally sheets, coupons, bank records, unit accounting records, data required for charitable  organization records, cash cards, pay-out schedules, bank-deposit slips, gross receipts, safe or depositories, video surveillance tapes, are  just a small list of the total equipment and supplies seized, along with the 98 “gambling devices.”

The affidavit includes information on how an undercover investigator, Kay Langford from the Henderson County Sheriff's Department, was able to play numerous electronic games in the bingo hall with about $100 from the Sheriff's Department.

She was able to walk out of the hall with $1,402 in U.S. Currency, i.e. 70 twenty-dollar bills and two one-dollar bills, and two days later, she walked out with another $298, which she won after earning 354 tickets,  which were exchanged for pull tabs..  

After the stickers on the pull tabs had been removed, her winnings totaled $298.

That money is now in the evidence room at the Henderson County Sheriff's office.

“During the investigation of Golden Belle Bingo by the Texas Lottery Commission and the Gun Barrel City Police Department, allegations of illegal gambling surfaced,” said Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee.

“My office was informed that these allegations involved both the 8-liner operation and the bingo, wherein winnings from 8-liners were paid in the form of bingo pull tabs, which could then be redeemed for cash at the bingo window,” McKee said. “The Gun Barrel City Police Department has requested assistance from both the Texas Lottery Commission and my office in this continuing investigation.”

With Texas' sometimes bizarre laws about gambling, the receiving of cash money for winnings at electronic games, like 8-liner machines, is illegal.

Elsewhere in the same building, bingo winners are able to use a very similar process to cash in their “pull tabs” for U.S. currency.

The latter is perfectly legal, if the proper hoops are cleared first.

The clearing of hoops, and how that's done, is what interests law officers. They have to determine if the evidence exonerates the owners, or suggests some type of money-laundering scheme.

One lawman, discussing why some gambling is legal, and some is not, said,  “That's just Texas for you.”

It sets up a situation where bingo gamblers can win cash for charities, while eight-liner winners are said to be breaking the law, if they also receive U.S. currency as compensation inside the same building.

The difference is that bingo winnings are for previously-designated charitable organizations. Even doing that requires stringent compliance to the law from such establishments.

In Texas, gambling is illegal  —  except that it isn't in horse-racing, bingo, and even with 8-liners, as long as nothing of value is rewarded for winning this game-of-chance.  Some would argue – then why play it?

Investigators will be perusing the items to see how, if any money was laundered during the gambling cash process established by the operators of the hall.

The Golden Belle Bingo Hall re-opened for business the following day. 

In the end, it'll come down to how the money is distributed, and whether or not the bingo hall is being used as a front for the 8-liner business.

The affidavit describes in careful detail how 8-liner winners exchange their winning tickets for pull-tabs. The pull tabs lead to winnings of $5, $10, with occasional $25 winnings and even  $100 winnings.

Proof of those winnings are tabulated on the “fob,” which can be taken to a location inside the Hall.

Actual U.S. currency is paid out during a 1-hour period daily, according to the pull-tab totals, which are kept on the card/fob or pod-type readers.

According to the affidavit, Langford followed a fairly complex series of steps set up by operators of the establishment to collect their cash winnings for their accumulated credits.

The owners are identified in the affidavit as Nathan R. Bullard and James Christopher Bullard.

The Gun Barrel City Police Department is in the process of winding up its case, which will then be presented   to the Henderson County District Attorney's office.

From there, the case goes to a Grand Jury, which will then true bill, or no bill its conclusions.

Motivation leading up to the raid was  initiated by the Texas Lottery Commission,  which had obtained information  about illegal gambling activities at the site.

The Commission then asked the Gun Barrel City Police Department to launch an investigation of its own, to determine if illegal gambling activities were occurring inside the bingo establishment.

The issue came up last December at a Gun Barrel City Council meeting, when then-Mayor Dennis Wood presented a letter from the Texas Lottery Commission addressed to the Gun Barrel City Voluntary Fire Department concerning gaming activities at the Golden Bell Bingo.

Wood had been calling for the city to shut down the bingo location, but City Manager  Gerry Boren said the city was powerless to do anything until illegal activity had been established through an indictment.

Although charges are expected in one to two weeks, as of now, nobody has been charged with anything, and the bingo hall is open for business.

Not that a lot of eyebrows haven't been arched over the confiscation of so much equipment and supplies by law officers.

If and when the 8-liners will be operable in the future, is a matter of conjecture.

At this time, the commission wrote its letter to the GBC Fire Department,  that a non-profit organization is one of the designated charities benefitting from the hall's profits.

The GBC Police Department, the  Henderson County Sheriff's Department,  the Henderson County Attorney's office and the Henderson County District Attorney's office began working together on the case several months ago.

Until this is sorted out, the electronic devices will remain unusable, until higher legal authorities determine the fate of these machines, and the legality of cashing in on the winnings made possible by those machines.


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