North Carolina’s for-profit beach bingo parlors have gone largely unregulated for years, but legislation approved by the state Senate this week could add new rules.
The popularity of bingo started decades ago at the coast – that’s why it’s called beach bingo – but long ago spread inland. And while the state regulates 246 bingo operations that serve as fundraisers for Elks clubs, churches and other nonprofits, those rules currently don’t apply to for-profit parlors.
“It’s been impossible to regulate this,” said Rep. Pat Hurley, an Asheboro Republican and the bill’s sponsor. “We don’t even know where they are.”
Hurley’s bill passed the Senate in a 48-1 vote Wednesday. The House approved the bill last year but must now vote on the Senate’s minor tweaks.
Each prize would have to be worth $10 or less. The $10 prize limit is already state law, but it’s not typically enforced because the parlors don’t have to register with the state. Hurley’s bill would require a $300 annual license, and the State Bureau of Investigation would be responsible for inspecting the businesses.
In Raleigh, B1 Beach Bingo advertises nightly games in a modest commercial strip on South Saunders Street. Several beach bingo businesses did not return calls seeking comment about the proposed regulations Wednesday.
Legislators said the regulations are needed to level the playing field for nonprofits, which use the bingo games as a key fundraising effort.
“I think a lot of the nonprofits appreciate this,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat.
Legislators discussed regulating beach bingo in 1998, but the proposal didn’t become law. Regulations for nonprofit bingo games have been in effect since at least the 1990s, but the state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement agency only has one employee who oversees the licenses.
“Beach bingo is a very good game, but I think we ought to regulate it,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican.
Bingo parlors were once a staple of beach towns like Carolina Beach, but they’ve lost popularity as a vacation activity. A search for beach bingo on Google Maps doesn’t turn up any parlors that are actually at the beach. The bulk of bingo businesses are now concentrated in smaller cities with high poverty rates, such as Kinston and Rocky Mount.