Fair bingo closes early

Central Montana Fairgoers take a break from the heat in the bingo barn last Thursday.

Photo by Jacques Rutten

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Bingo returned to the fair schedule this year, making its first appearance in years. Its visit was cut short, however, when the Central Montana Fairgrounds canceled Friday and Saturday’s games.

Office and Grounds Administrator Faith Robertson attributed the change to an oversight at the state’s Gambling Control Division. The department approved the Fairgrounds two casino night permit applications, awarding one more permit than the law allowed.

“There was a repeal of approval, and there was simply no time to fix that because it was the week of the fair,” she said.

After the Fergus County Fair Commission approved a proposal for fair bingo, fairgrounds staff research determined casino night permits were the best method to legally hold the game. Fairgrounds staff received confirmation for both applications Monday, July 24.

These permits allow a nonprofit to host gambling activities, including bingo, for a specific amount of time without requiring the organization to obtain a gambling license.

Robertson reported a second email Thursday night. That message rescinded one of the permits, explaining a nonprofit could only be granted one each year, and the second acceptance had been a mistake.

Although Robertson immediately contacted Commission members, the organization was unable to find a solution in time for Friday and Saturday bingo.

“Everybody was wiling to make an effort to make this work, but it was just too close to the fair nights,” Robertson said.

The Commission reached out to several people Friday morning, including Fergus County Attorney Kent Sipe. Sipe called the state, confirming the first two days of bingo were legal under the first permit awarded.

Now the Fairgrounds needed another nonprofit to apply for a casino night permit, and have it approved, before bingo started Friday afternoon.

“We tried to help out to maintain bingo as a fair activity,” Sipe said of his office. “The state was very helpful, we just didn’t have our ducks in a row.”

The set back saddened some, according to Bingo Coordinator Angie Davidson. She was the one who proposed the game’s return, later organizing and then staffing the event.

“People just loved that bingo was back,” she said. “It was a huge disappointment to the community on Saturday when they found out it wasn’t there.”

Davidson does not, however, think this year’s hiccups will keep bingo from reappearing, and she’s already looking forward to next summer.

“I do hope there’s bingo next year,” she said.

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