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  Jumping the Gun With Marina Bay Bingo
May 10, 2010

There is a Bingo expression “Jumping the Gun” – One who calls bingo before having a valid bingo. The most common situation is someone calling bingo using the next number in the screen before it has been called. It appears that Bingo at Marina Bay has jumped the gun.

Richmond, landlord move to halt new American Legion bingo hall

By John Simerman
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 05/10/2010 05:27:50 PM PDT
Updated: 05/10/2010 05:41:45 PM PDT

A sprawling new bingo hall in Richmond has lost its city license and the landlord is pursuing eviction less than two months after a grand opening where a cadre of East Bay politicians touted it as a boon to veterans services.
Marina Bay Bingo opened March 31 to fanfare and a promise that proceeds would help an American Legion post fund services for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, sent out invitations, and the City Council quickly moved to expand the days that bingo halls could operate in the city.
But support petered after Bay Area News Group found that Post 875 Commander Eddie Welbon has a criminal past that includes convictions for money laundering and a bingo permit kickback scheme, among other legal troubles.
On Monday, the city sent a letter to the American Legion post revoking its bingo license. The letter, signed by city finance director James Goins, argues that the bingo games are organized and promoted by Marina Bay Bingo, a different organization than the licensed one; and that it advertises prizes that exceed a $250 maximum in the city's bingo ordinance. The American Legion post has 10 days to appeal.
In the meantime, the landlord of the 32,000-square-foot bingo hall wants to evict it. In a legal action, Marina Westshore Partners asserts that the post failed to pay $45,000 in rent due April 1. A trial is slated for May 28.
Frank Ennix, an Oakland attorney who represents the bingo operator, did not return a call Monday.
According to court documents, the American Legion post signed a 10-year lease Oct. 19 with an escalating rent that would reach $67,000 per month. Marina Westshore Partners is managed by developer Richard Poe, a frequent political contributor to Gioia and other elected leaders. The building, at 1401 Marina Way South, housed city offices during a years-long City Hall renovation. Poe recently helped the bingo hall win council support to loosen the city's bingo rules.
"Mr. Poe was instrumental helping us navigate through city politics," said Gregory Cantrell, who stepped down last month as executive director of Marina Bay Bingo. He said he quit a few days after the grand opening when it grew clear that programs he planned for veterans were not a priority.
Several calls to Poe went unreturned. His attorney, Joshua Cohen, of Walnut Creek, also did not return calls. Marina Westshore Partners argues that it served the post with a pay-or-leave notice April 15, the same day Bay Area News Group posted its story online.
The American Legion post has countered that the landlord breached its duty by removing equipment from the building "in an effort to disrupt business operations."
State law allows charity bingo sponsored only by nonprofit agencies, mobile home park associations and senior groups, and run by volunteers. It sets a $2,000 per month maximum rent that bingo charities can pay. Critics say many bingo operators ignore the rules, and that it's common for questionable operators to use shell nonprofit agencies or take over dormant charities to profit from the games.
Cantrell said he had been searching for nonprofit partners for bingo in the East Bay when his former brother-in-law and partner, Tony Martin, introduced him to Welbon two years ago. They hoped Marina Bay Bingo would net $5,000 to $7,000 a day. Martin has not responded to numerous messages.
Marina Bay Bingo invited local charities to lend volunteers for a share of bingo profits. It is unclear whether any agreed. The hall has operated sporadically since the opening. The parking lot was full Sunday evening for a Mother's Day bingo event.
Martin apologized at a City Council meeting shortly after the newspaper story, saying he was unaware of Welbon's history. He said he would no longer represent Post 875, and he planned instead to enlist a Women's Auxiliary Post to sponsor the bingo games.
"I am totally embarrassed. Going forward, things are definitely going to change," Martin said. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
But Post 875 remains on the sign at the bingo hall, and on the Marina Bay Bingo website.