N.Y. law blanks ‘Bingo’

State's constitution outlaws gamer

HOLLYWOOD — We have a bingo! Almost.

Denver-based TV distributor Mansfield has assembled a healthy enough clearance list for its upcoming syndie live gamer “Bingo Television,” produced by U-DUB Prods., to be declared a go for fall — with the exception of one big problem.

Bingo is outlawed in the state of New York, due to an old statute on the books.

In 1957, a modification was made to the New York constitution that allowed for regulated bingo games under certain circumstances, said Connie Crane, of Powers, Crane & Co., the Albany-based lobbyist U-DUB and Mansfield contracted last month to help find state legislative relief.

Since the 1957 ruling, bingo is legal if it’s played at home for amusement, participants don’t pay to play, prizes are nominal and no more than 15 people are involved.

Crane and Albany attorney Josh Koenig are working with legislators on “Bingo TV’s” behalf to get a bill passed that would eliminate the “15 people” and “nominal prizes” caveats, Crane said.

The TV show, which proposes to distribute cards via the Internet, a toll-free phone number and local sites, then would pass muster in New York, just as it has in other states.

Recent problem

“Bingo TV’s” crew has been researching the show’s legality state-by-state for months. It wasn’t until last month, however, that it became clear New York was going to be a problem. That’s when they enlisted the help of Koenig and Crane in New York’s capital.

“In planning a free bingo game for TV, we certainly didn’t think the problem we’d run into would be a constitutional problem in New York,” U-DUB chief operating officer Bob Lienhard said. “We’re hopeful there will be resolution soon.”

The challenge is at least twofold. First of all, it’s been tried.

Ironically, before “Bingo TV” was even developed, an unsuccessful attempt was made to get bingo off the hook. New York’s Senate and House passed a 1999 bill that would have relaxed the bingo restriction.

However, New York Gov. George Pataki vetoed it on the basis that it went too far by effectively exempting all forms of so-called free bingo from state and local oversight.

Secondly, the clock is a-ticking. The new bill was just submitted, and New York’s legislative bodies are due to wrap their sessions June 20.

If the bingo efforts are not successful, it will rep a major blow to “Bingo Television,” as the state of New York accounts for 9% of the nation’s TV households and, of course, is home to the biggest market in the country.

Some slots set

Deals are in place for “Bingo Television” to air on weekdays beginning Sept. 17 for 52 weeks on stations in key markets across the country. “Bingo TV’s” deals include carriage on indie TV stations in three of the top five markets, Chicago (WCIU), Philadelphia (WTVE) and Boston (WNDS).

Lienhard and Mansfield TV topper John Mansfield are in Los Angeles this week to scout production facilities; they also hope to seal a station deal in the nation’s No. 2 market.

The half-hour show is being offered nationally as a strip on a barter basis, with a 3.5 national/3.5 local split.