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Thursday, December 14, 2000

Bingo winner
denied jackpot under
Army employee rule

The man, whose wife works
at the Waianae Army Club, says
he wasn't told he was ineligible

By Gregg K. Kakesako

A Makaha man says the Army never told him he was ineligible to participate in bingo games at the Waianae Army Beach Club and that it illegally took away his $1,500 jackpot.

Asa Durrett hit the jackpot on Nov. 19, but on Dec. 4, the Army placed a stop payment on a check it issued because of a complaint citing an Army regulation prohibiting employees and their family members from playing bingo, said 1st Lt. Brian Miles, spokesman for the Army. Durrett's wife, Cynthia, is a cashier at the club.

Last week, the Army took disciplinary action against James Gazman, the club's food and beverage manager, because he failed to remind employees that family members were ineligible. Miles wouldn't say what punishment Gazman received.

Although employees were told by Gazman in May that they could not participate in the bingo games, "no mention of the employee family members was made at the time," Miles said.

The Durretts want the Army to hand over the prize money or reimburse Asa Durrett all the money he has spent playing bingo for the past five years. Cynthia Durrett has filed a complaint with the Army Inspector General's Office here.

On Monday, she was told by Army lawyer Capt. Donna Bivona that her husband was denied the money because Army regulations "clearly state that employees of the sponsoring activity, and their immediate family members, are not permitted to play bingo."

However, Cynthia Durrett said she was told by Gazman a "couple of months ago" that the prohibition against employees and families was lifted.

"The fact that Mr. Durrett played due to the inaccurate advice of the club manager, Mr. Gazman, does not permit him to collect the money," Bivona said.

Bivona also said the fact that "Mrs. Durrett was the caller when her husband won creates the appearance of impropriety that the regulation and the policy are designed to prevent."

Meanwhile, a Honolulu Police Department vice officer said that regulation could mean the Army is in violation of the state's gambling law.

Lt. Michael Fujioka, head of HPD's gambling detail, said several elements cause an activity to be considered as gambling:

Bullet Players agree to or have to pay something of value to participate.

Bullet Elements of chance.

Bullet Players receive something of value.

It is not gambling if everyone who wants to play is allowed to participate, "and it has to be free," Fujioka said.

The Army's regulation disallowing certain people from participating may create a problem, he said. "It would be illegal to exclude anyone from playing, even employees and their families," he said. HPD will be monitoring the activities at the Waianae club, Fujioka said.

However, Miles said the Army believes it may be exempt from the state law because military installations are not required to allow everyone in because of security concerns.

Active-duty military personnel, retirees, and Department of Defense civilians are the only people authorized to use the Waianae Army Recreation Center and the Waianae Beach Club.

"As long as you are authorized on the installation, you are authorized to play bingo," Miles said.

Also, Asst. U.S. Attorney John Payton said the military's bingo operations were reviewed by police, prosecutors and his office a few months ago, and it was agreed then that they were in compliance with state law. However, he declined to comment on the Durrett case.

Although the Army does charge $18 for dinner and bingo, Miles said the bingo games are open to patrons who want to just play. "Bingo is just the entertainment," he said.

However, Cynthia Durrett said during the six years she has been cashier, she knows of only one case in which a person was given a free card to play bingo without buying a meal.

Durrett said her husband has been allowed to play bingo for at least five years, and no one ever told him that it was illegal. "Now when he wins big, they say he is not eligible," she said.

She told the Star-Bulletin that the bingo games haul in anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000 a night. "With the $18 dinner packet, you get a packet of six cards that allows you to play 10 games," she said. "Each extra packet costs $15 and gives you nine more cards and 10 more games to play."

The games are held every Sunday and Thursday nights, and anywhere from 80 to 120 people attend, Durrett said.

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