Rotarians, the police and senior citizens alike — among others — have been breaking the law in Ripon by staging bingo games in city-owned facilities.
A Ripon ordinance makes that the case.
But they couldn’t have played without the consent of the city itself that has allowed the games on municipal property for at least six years — including the police department on National Night Out — despite what the Ripon ordnances says.
After receiving a citizen complaint, Ripon city leaders pulled the plug on tonight’s bingo fundraiser jointly hosted by the Friends of the Senior Center and the Rotary Club using the Senior Center building on South Wilma Avenue.
Ripon does grant permits for non-profits such as clubs and organizations that want to stage bingo games at non-city owned locations. Manteca regulates bingo but allows games to be conducted at city-owned venues such as the Manteca Senior Center.
The bottom line of the Ripon decision means bingo and poker tournaments are out for the Ripon Rotary Club and other non-profits that only have public buildings available to them that are suitable for such ventures. The games help underwrite most of Rotary’s annual $8,000 in charitable giving for everything from providing high school scholarships to dictionaries for all the third graders in the community.
“The Bingo and Poker Tournament is our main fundraiser for the year and without that we will not be able to service the community,” Ripon Rotary President Harrison Gibbs said.
City Administrator Kevin Werner was unavailable for comment on Monday due to the Martin Luther King holiday.
With reference to the 1998 copy of the ordinance in city files, the Rotary is not only losing half the net returns from the senior citizens’ event but also from the late March Poker and Bingo Tournament that has long been held in the Ripon Community Center as both are city-owned. Both the city attorney and city administrator reportedly stand behind the city ordinance, according to Rotarians on the fundraising committee. Ordinances are put in place by the Ripon City Council and staff is required to enforce them.
The last sentence within the ordinance under the sub-headline of the “Frequency, time and place” category reads: “No bingo games shall be conducted within any public building or on any public property within the city.” Neither the state nor the Manteca ordinance includes that ruling.
Precedent had been set with the city allowing games in government owned buildings for the last six years in the community with the net proceeds going back into the community through non-profits.
Looking at the ordinances for Ripon, Manteca and the State of California, it is clear that non-profit organizations such as Rotary, Lions, Ripon High School, youth football and Soroptimists are exempt from a censure on the low level gambling with monies realized going back to the communities they serve.
Ripon had added one line to its ordinance 16 years ago that surfaced just last week reading that those games of chance cannot be held in publicly-owned buildings. Even the police department, with its National Night Out, can no longer hold its bingo games in the community center.
Gibbs said he has canceled the Tuesday night bingo games although he hopes that the city council will amend the ordinance and remove that single restrictive line.
A story in Saturday’s edition referred to the Ripon Chamber of Commerce as hosting the games quoting Tamra Spade of the chamber and publicity chair for the Ripon Rotary. She was misquoted in the story relating to its hosting organization as being the chamber. A number of tickets had already been sold for the seniors’ event tonight and fliers advertising the games had been circulated around the community. Those monies have been refunded.
The bingo games in Manteca have a payout of $100 where Ripon has only $50, according to Gibbs who added that the Ripon tickets are half of Manteca’s. He said that last year about 100 tickets were sold in Ripon because of the limited capacity of the room. Gibbs plans on speaking tonight at the Ripon City Council during the citizen comments portion of the agenda in hope the council members will consider rescinding the one line in the ordinance that blocks non-profits from using city buildings.
Rotary has consistently used their fundraising monies for a way to give back to Ripon. The freestanding clock on Main Street next to the library is just one reflection of the service club’s efforts. Dictionaries for all the third graders in the community, scholarships for graduating high school seniors, 13 caution safety signs for residential neighborhoods’ children, high school speech contests and the planned Gateway Signage.
The Gateway Signage measuring 48 by 120 inches will be of steel construction and installed at the Highway 99 northbound off ramp onto Main Street that will welcome motorists entering Ripon. Rotary has agreed to keep that ramp area free of bottles, cans and trash and to plant wildflower seeds before spring to spruce up the shoulders for the highway traffic. A smaller sign on the shoulder of the ramp approach already recognizes that Ripon Rotary has as being responsible for the routine cleaning of the shoulder areas.
“We need additional planned fundraisers or we will never be able to accomplish anything in the community,” Gibbs said.