Legislature may debate video confirmation of pull-tab bingo

Whether bingo players in Texas may use electronic machines to learn if they are winners when playing instant pull-tab bingo games could be considered by the Texas Legislature in 2015. The Lottery Commission, which oversees charity bingo in Texas, has not acted on a proposal to expand to instant pull-tab games the use of “video confirmation” of winners, making it possible for the commission to consider it again or for the 84th Legislature to take up the issue.

In pull-tab bingo, players buy and break open paper tickets to reveal numbers, letters, or symbols designating winners. Since 2007, players in Texas have been able to use video to learn the winning combinations in “event” pull-tab bingo. In event pull-tab bingo, an action such as the drawing of balls or the spinning of a wheel determines winners among those who hold tickets preprinted with numbers, letters, or symbols. The commission defines video confirmation as “a graphic and dynamic representation of the outcome of a bingo event ticket that will have no effect on the result of the winning or losing event ticket.”

The proposal considered by the Lottery Commission in April 2014 would have expanded use of video confirmation from event pull-tab bingo games to instant pull-tab bingo tickets, which have winners pre-printed and do not depend on an event. In 2013, pull-tab sales totaled $369.2 million, with event pull tabs making up about 96 percent of those sales. Video confirmation for instant pull-tab games would use some type of electronic device to reveal whether a ticket was a winner.

Under the proposed rules, video confirmation would have been only one way of revealing if a ticket was a winner, along with more traditional methods. Pull-tab tickets would have been required to be printed on paper. The commission would have approved all video confirmation methods, which could not have included simulated or displayed spinning wheels, dice, slot machines, or other casino-style games.

Some critics of the proposed rule have questioned whether the commission has the rulemaking authority to approve video confirmation for pull-tab games. They say that neither the Texas Constitution nor current state law authorizes the Lottery Commission to adopt rules allowing the electronic or digital outcome of games or electronic pull-tab bingo. They point to a 2007 attorney general opinion, GA-0541, stating that constitutional authorization for pull-tab bingo does not include electronic pull-tab bingo. Others say the commission has the authority to approve the proposed rule because it would change only how the results of an approved game are displayed, not authorize electronic pull-tab bingo itself or any other illegal game.

Supporters of video confirmation for instant pull-tab bingo say it would change only the method of displaying results and would not expand gambling or legalize slot machines. They say it would fuel player interest and increase sales and money for the charities that run bingo games, allowing bingo to evolve and stay in business. Electronic devices would not determine if a ticket was a winner but only reveal the pre-printed outcome, supporters say. Supporters say that the attorney general, in a 2008 opinion, GA-0591, said video confirmation is within the law and would not change pull-tab bingo into an illegal electronic bingo game.

Opponents of video confirmation for instant pull-tab bingo say allowing the outcome of pull-tab bingo games to be displayed electronically, on video, or digitally would result in games that looked and operated like illegal slot machines. It would expand a type of gambling that can have a negative impact on social welfare, they say. Bingo should be kept as close as possible to the traditional game without expanding the use of electronic devices, opponents say.

by Kellie A. Dworaczyk

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