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Published: 6/12/2004

5 groups sue city over smoking at bingo

Five Toledo organizations that were denied exemptions to the city's smoking ban at bingo games filed lawsuits yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Toledo Jazz Society, Toledo Celtics Soccer Club, Alano Step One Club, International Boxing Club, and Chapter V Club failed to get approval last week from the city to allow smoking at bingo games.

The Pollution Control Appeals Board said the nonprofit groups met the criteria for membership associations, but the bingo games conducted by the organizations were not exempt because the general public can attend.

The city's Clean Indoor Air ordinance bans smoking in bars and restaurants and other public places with exceptions allowed for private clubs, private functions such as weddings, and city-certified smoking lounges with their own outside ventilation.

In an attempt to qualify as a private organization, many bingo halls have been enrolling their patrons in a club or charity so they can continue to allow smoking on the premises.

Timothy Horne, an attorney for the groups, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

The city said some organizations established a "membership roster" for bingo games with each "contributing member" pledging to spend $200 to $275 at bingo games or volunteer 50 to 75 hours of their time for fund-raising events.

However, the appeals board said the contributing members were not allowed to take part in business matters, and they were not sanctioned for failing to meet pledge requirements.

Since the ordinance was fully phased into action in January, the owners of some bars and nightclubs have tried unsuccessfully to circumvent the city's smoking ban.

In forming Taverns for Tots Inc., the owners of bars sold $1 life memberships to customers to fund charities. However, U.S. District Judge James Carr ruled

the group was not a legitimate charitable organization.

City Law Director Barbara Herr said the Tavern for Tots decision strengthened the ordinance's criteria in what events are not open to the public.

"The only issue before the court is whether these bingo games are open to the public and that will be evaluated on a common-sense basis," Ms. Herr said.

Adams Township Post 553 of the American Legion, 206 South Byrne Rd., enforced the no-smoking ban at its twice-a-week bingo games.

However, Jesse Pippin, adjutant and the post's bingo chairman, said attendance suffered because of it. The post held its last bingo game Thursday night.

"We followed the law, but lost so much money that we couldn't continue. We ended up paying more money out that what we brought in," Mr. Pippin said.



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