About 500 elderly residents of a town in eastern Spain are facing a possible fine of 600,000 euros ($815,000) for playing bingo with wagers of up to 27 cents.
The members of the Peña de Amigos de la Tercera Edad (Elderly Friends Club) in Puerto de Sagunto in the Valencia region are defending their actions by saying that the money they’re collecting goes to pay the expenses of maintaining the venue and nothing more.
The retirees - ranging in age from 76 to 92 - could get into trouble because their actions may be deemed to be in conflict with the regional gaming law that limits games like bingo to previously authorized sites.
The law excludes “purely leisure” games that are not used by the players to profit.
The vice president of the Peña, Manuel Rios, told Efe that it’s just a group of retired people who use the money they collect from the games to pay for the site, the office and the bar. “But we never have more money” than that, he insisted.
He said that in the past the group had even devoted money to aid activities, including 2,700 euros ($3,600) that they delivered to people affected by the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti.
Rafael Chinchilla, one of the members of the club, said that getting together and playing is “therapy” for them “because there are older people (in the club) who need to be entertained.”
They say that they go to the club to relax “and here we are, nervous, because the police are not telling us and when they do tell you they’re in the middle of the room,” said member Maria Garrido, who added that without the proceeds from the game, they will not be able to maintain the club, the monthly expenses of which amount to up to 1,600 euros ($2,170).
This is not the first time that this club has been in a similar situation. In 2000, they had to pay a fine equivalent to $1,630 for playing bingo, but the court found in their favor and returned the fine to them with interest.
Officials with the Valencia regional administration refused to provide details about the case or the size of the potential fine, and they told Efe that they had been monitoring the regular club activities ever since police reported a violation.