Nonprofit group betting on bingo

October 08, 1997


Staff Writer

A nonprofit group based in Knoxville, Md., has applied for a permit to hold bingo operations at the former Moose lodge on Downsville Pike, angering volunteer fire officials who worry that the lodge would cut into their gambling operations.

Universal Charitable Corp., which was incorporated in 1996, said in permit documents that it plans about $90,000 in improvements to the building for bingo, including 625 chairs, 200 5-foot-long tables, 10 television monitors and a snack bar.

Bingo patrons would be charged $35 per person to gamble, the documents said.

The application throws into question a plan to turn the lodge into a gambling-free, tropical-theme lounge and restaurant.

Paul Prodonovich, director of permits and inspections, said a special exception granted in August for a lounge and restaurant specifically excluded bingo. A local group, 632 Limited Partnership, which has a contract to buy the agriculture-zoned property from Moose International, has applied for Highway Interchange 1 zoning.


Prodonovich said that either a rezoning or another special exception would be required before he could issue a permit.

Ronnie Koontz, a partner in 632 Limited Partnership, said he had never heard of Universal Charitable Corp. and said several parties remain interested in the property.

Halfway Fire Co. Administrator Jeff Ringer told the Washington County Commissioners Tuesday that if the group succeeds in starting a bingo operation, it could take money out of the county and compete with Halfway's bingo operation. Ringer said his company already was hurting from the opening last weekend of a massive bingo hall in Berkeley Plaza in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Thomas McCartin, the Rockville, Md.-based lawyer for Universal Charitable Corp., said Tuesday that the group has a number of charitable goals, including helping the homeless, battered women and the elderly, and would focus most of its efforts on Washington County.

McCartin said the group had looked at starting a bingo operation at the Washington County Regional Airport before looking at the lodge.

He also said the charity plans to contract out the bingo operations to a private company.

He said he didn't know what the group's relationship was to 632 Limited Partnership. The president of the charity, Arlene Leonard of Poolesville, would only say that the group "was trying to get this off the ground" and referred all other questions to McCartin.

Michael St. Clair, formerly a Miami entertainment producer, had planned a restaurant and lounge at the 24,000-square-foot lodge - with no bingo.

Koontz said St. Clair was still in the running to buy the lodge.

The partnership's attorney, William C. Wantz, also said he had not heard of the charity.

The building has been vacant since Moose International shut down the lodge in February 1994, citing repeated violations of policies.

When it was operated as Moose Lodge No. 212, the lodge had as many as 10,000 members, making it the largest Moose lodge in North America.

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