Big Bucks From Bingo Unlikely
Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park’s foray into charity bingo likely won’t be easy - or a big moneymaker, a state official predicted Tuesday.
Pat Stewart, an investigator with the Idaho Lottery Commission, said track officials met with her last week to discuss dropping the park’s embattled greyhound racing program. The track will keep its simulcast racing and hopes to add bingo.
Stewart said park owners gave her the names of four non-profit agencies interested in running bingo games there. She declined to say who the agencies are but said none runs a bingo game now.
Tuesday’s news shocked state Rep. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, who lobbied hard eight years ago to get state law changed to allow dog racing.
“You’ve just hit me with something that I haven’t thought about,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “I just don’t even have a comment right now. I will, but I need to know more than I do.”
Just before the past legislative session ended, Kellogg shepherded through a bill revision allowing non-profit games to offer slightly higher stakes.
The change was in response to requests from the American Legion, senior citizens and other non-profit groups, she said.
“The track had nothing to do with that,” she said.
Under state law, non-profit groups get 20 percent of all money taken in. Another 65 percent to 70 percent is paid out in prizes. The remaining 10 percent to 15 percent is spent on expenses, such as rent.
Rent must be “within reason,” Stewart said, or the state lottery commission wouldn’t approve it.
Given those restrictions, she said, the greyhound park probably won’t see huge profits from the bingo operation. The track could, however, sell food and drinks during games, she said, upping its take.
“They seemed to be pretty up front, when I talked to them, that they’re just trying to recover some of their expenses,” she said.
Bingo isn’t a big money-maker even for the charities. The 150 non-profit groups that ran bingo games in Idaho last year grossed just over $5 million. That’s before paying out prizes and expenses.
It’s also going to be difficult to start up a new bingo game with so many already running in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane, Stewart said.
“The only thing in their favor is that the greyhound park is highly visible from the freeway,” he said.
The park’s plush facilities also will help, she said.
Stewart said the game probably won’t significantly affect the Coeur d’Alene or Kootenai tribal bingo games, or the state lottery.
In Worley, Coeur d’Alene Tribal Bingo marketing director Laura Stensgar said she isn’t worried. The tribe averages 500 people at each of its thrice-weekly games, paying out $30,000 per game.
“We understand this is competition,” Stensgar said, “but that’s what business is about. We’ve always had competition from non-profit agencies.”
The tribes also offer “video pull-tab” machines, similar to slot machines, which draw many players.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe just added 9,600 square feet to its bingo hall to keep up with demand, she said.
“We’ll continue business as usual,” Stensgar said.