Arkansas Catholics told to give up bingo

Posted: Friday, August 06, 2004

LITTLE ROCK (AP) The Roman Catholic bishop of Little Rock has outlawed bingo in his diocese to comply with state law that deems most forms of gambling illegal.

Bishop J. Peter Sartain wrote to pastors and administrators last month in his diocese of more than 100,000 Catholics, telling them to stop the games, which are banned by the state Constitution. Only pari-mutuel wagering at race tracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis are allowed.

''We're all stunned,'' said the Rev. Tom Byrne of Conway's St. Joseph Catholic Church and School, where bingo has supplemented the budget for 27 years. ''We don't get any tax support. Tuition is never enough to meet the expenses. Doing without it or finding an alternative is going to be difficult.''

The antigambling law until recently was widely ignored, with churches and charitable groups sponsoring games as police looked the other way. But the Randolph County sheriff recently started a crackdown, threatening to prosecute a Catholic church and another bingo operator in his area.

Martin Roy, the past state deputy of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's organization, said the bingo ban may hurt churches that rely on the game as a fund raiser.

At St. Joseph's, the games helped supplement a $1.5 million annual budget.

''Bingo is a quick, easy way to raise money,'' Roy said. ''There'll be other ways to raise money ... like craft shows and things like that.''

Diocesan spokesman Dennis Lee declined to discuss the bishop's letter.

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