Del. Shoemaker hopes to bring nickel bingo to seniors

Bingo, as played by children — thrilled simply to be the first to claim a row on their card has been called — may be fun, but adults have been known to add a little wagering to the game for extra zest.

This may not be the equivalent of slot machines, but under Maryland law it is apparently not acceptable for residents in senior living facilities to play bingo involving money, according to Del. Haven Shoemaker, and that's something he is out to change. He has received a handwritten petition from the people living at The Residences at Hampstead School, an 84-unit senior living facility on Hampstead's Main Street asking for his help.


"They are being told that under the law they can't play nickel and quarter bingo in there," Shoemaker, R-District 5, said. "Frankly, the property manager's interpretation of the law I think is right; they can't. I've got a bill in to allow folks to play bingo for God's sake, and I think it's gonna pass."

Under current law, people age 21 or older, or residents at property restricted to those age 55 or older, can play a "home game involving wagering" so long as they choose a card game or mahjong. There are a handful of other restrictions, such as a ban on charging an admission fee to the game, that it is not held more than once a week and that the total pot for any gaming day is no more than $1,000.

Shoemaker's bill, House Bill 545, would simply amend the law to add bingo to the list of approved games. It would also bring some parity to senior-oriented facilities, he said, as nonresidential senior centers are granted an exemption under the law.

"My mom, she goes to the North Carroll Senior and Community Center twice a week to play bingo, and they are allowed to do that," Shoemaker said. "But at the residences at the Hampstead School, for instance, and other independent assisted living facilities, they can't."

And that is the issue for the 34 people living at The Residences at Hampstead School who signed the petition sent to Shoemaker, some of whom have mobility issues, according to Rita Smelser, who has lived there for the past five years.

"We want to play here so we don't have to leave our residence and drive to go play other places," she said "It's good socialization for us and we have a good time."

Initially filed as a statewide law, HB 545 was amended the first week of March to affect only Carroll County, if signed into law.

The property manager at The Residences at Hampstead School referred inquiries about bingo at the facility to WinnResidential, the Boston-based firm that manages the Hampstead facility.

"Our residents have been angry over this prohibition for several years. We are proud of their efforts to organize and to use the democratic process to make positive change happen," said spokesman Ed Cafasso. "We support this amendment 100 percent, and we hope the General Assembly agrees."