- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Washington watchdog group is complaining about a homeland security grant to investigate whether money is being embezzled from Kentucky bingo games by terrorists or other criminals, and the group took its complaint directly to Frankfort yesterday and held a protest at the state Capitol.

“The problem we have is $36,000 going to keep bingo halls safe from terrorists. We don’t see that as a wise use of money,” says Ed Frank, spokesman for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

“Anti-terrorist funding need to go to places where there are more likely victims of a terrorist attack, and I don’t think Kentucky bingo halls are at the top of anyone’s list,” Mr. Frank says.

Officials in the sleepy Southern state, however, say the $36,000 grant to the Kentucky Office of Charitable Gaming is not that far-fetched.

The funding, they say, is not to unleash an army of guards to protect bingo fanatics who gather nightly in old storefronts, school cafeterias, and church basements, but to train law-enforcement officials how to catch “charitable fronts” that embezzle money through some of the 1,300 charities licensed in the state to operate the games.

“There is a great deal of money that comes through charitable gaming, and we certainly have concerns about that,” said Jason Keller, spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Homeland Security.

“It’s a $600 million all-cash industry. We take it very seriously,” Mr. Keller says.

Charitable games have four major players — the charity itself, the manufactures of bingo cards and computers supplied for the games, the distributor of the supplies, and the facilities where the games are held. To prevent organized crime, all four entities must be separate.

However, one state gaming office official says there have been many instances where fly-by-night operators find a charity and use it as a front to run lucrative games by breaking the rules and then pocketing most of the winnings.

“An astronomical amount of money was used to fund September 11, and this is a high-cash industry,” the official said.

The state is home to more than 7,000 Arabs who worship at nearly 20 mosques across the state, including one mosque in the far reaches of the Eastern Highlands, where bingo halls abound, and where one intelligence report says a man questioned by police for taking photographs of the Ashland Oil refinery later turned out to be on the terrorist watch list.

The grant is a fraction of the $31 million awarded to the state in this year’s budget from the Homeland Security Department.

“Our office employs an ‘all-crimes’ approach to homeland security, meaning that if a program or training or equipment we can get out there in the state will improve public safety, that’s what we are going to do,” Mr. Keller said.

The gaming office asked for the grant to send its investigators to a training school, but instead the state homeland office awarded a grant to bring training personnel to Kentucky to train that office and state law-enforcement officials.

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