The owners of the 49er Bingo hall in Brooklyn Park look at themselves, then across town and wonder what they did wrong.
John James Snead Jr. and Leonard Buchheit -- two lifelong county residents with squeaky clean records -- have fought unsuccessfully for nearly four years to reopen the 43-year-old Church Street building.
Meanwhile, only a few miles away, Stephen B. Paskind, a Florida-based businessman whom federal authorities have linked to a mob money-laundering scheme, has never had to close the doors to Bingo World, the 2,000-seat hall on Belle Grove Road.
Organized crime figures secretly owned nearly half the shares in Bingo World and laundered illegal gambling proceeds through the business, federal authorities say. Six people associated with Bingo World have pleaded guilty to federal charges of laundering mob money through the bingo hall.
"He hasn't been closed 10 minutes," groused Mr. Buchheit, who finds that especially galling because he believes Mr. Paskind is at the root of his troubles.
Four years ago, Mr. Snead said, the owners were leasing the 49er hall to Howard Snyder who, unbeknown to them, signed a managerial agreement with Mr. Paskind. With that agreement in hand, Mr. Paskind laid claim to 49er's permit to operate.
About the same time, the county officials became aware that Mr. Paskind had been convicted of gambling violations in Florida in the 1970s. As a result, they rejected his 1989 applications to renew the permits for Bingo World, 49er Bingo and a hall in Glen Burnie, touching off a legal war that has yet to be resolved.
Mr. Paskind so far has managed to keep Bingo World open. But the doors to 49er Bingo have been closed ever since.
"I was screwed," said Mr. Snead, 65, who retired from his Glen Burnie vending machine business last year. "I've lived in Anne Arundel County all my life and don't even have a traffic ticket. Here this guy blows into town from Florida, has ties to organized crime and they let him do this to me."
County officials say 49er Bingo's license lapsed in 1989. No one but Mr. Paskind tried to renew it that year; after that, there was no license to renew.
Now county officials say the owners will have to compete with other would-be bingo operators for the county's sixth and final bingo license.
"Their primary problem was caused in 1989 when they or their agent surrendered the right to operate the bingo hall to Mr. Paskind," said David Plymyer, deputy county attorney.
Mr. Plymyer said, "It's not entirely clear what transpired" but "no one from 49er Bingo came forward at the time and said, 'This [Mr. Paskind] is an interloper. This license is rightfully ours.' "
Mr. Buchheit, who signed a lease agreement in 1989 and later became part owner of the building, did not apply to renew the license until March 1990, a year later.
By then, it was too late, Mr. Plymyer said.
A great deal is at stake. If the owners of 49er Bingo are not allowed to claim the remaining license, they will have to compete for it with other investment groups.
Mr. Snead and Mr. Buchheit could run into zoning problems, too, if the bingo hall, which sits in a residential neighborhood, is seen as a new use rather than a continuing enterprise.
The neighbors would like to see the deteriorating hall refurbished and reopened rather than vacant, said Robert Moore, president of the Greater Brooklyn Park Council. He noted that the hall is bordered by other businesses, including a liquor store and bar.
The job of sorting out the details has been given to the county Board of Appeals.
The panel is to hear the case at 6:30 p.m. April 1 in the County Council Chambers of the Arundel Center in Annapolis.
"There is a certain amount of sympathy for Mr. Snead," Mr. Plymyer said. "It seems to me anyone who has dealt with Mr. Paskind has come up short."