Hed: Bingo hearing ends, ruling due in May

Hed: Bingo hearing ends, ruling due in May

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Testimony ended Thursday in Tupelo on Mississippi Gaming Commission complaints against two Northeast Mississippi bingo operations.

The commission is seeking more than $400,000 in fines and permanent revocation of the bingo licenses of Vietnow on East Main Street in Tupelo and Amvets Post 350 in Iuka.

The commission complaints allege a series of violations occurred at the clubs between 1993 and 1995, including falsification of records and sloppy record keeping.

Hearing officer Larry Stroud, a special assistant state attorney general, gave attorneys until April 10 to file final arguments in the case. Stroud said he expects to issue a ruling in May.

The state is seeking fines totaling $250,000 against Vietnow and $184,000 against Amvets 350. The clubs are continuing operations pending resolution of the case, a gaming commission spokesman said.

Commission auditors cited “numerous errors” in bingo card inventories at Vietnow and claimed the club discounted or gave away cards as a “buy-in” promotion, a violation of rules that require the cards to be sold at assigned values. They also claimed various checks were not properly signed, and in at least one case a check signature was altered after the check was processed.

The complaint cited 19 alleged violations at Amvets 350, including falsification of signatures on daily session reports and checks.

The commission also alleged violations in club connections with Tupelo attorney Jimmy Doug Shelton, who leases the buildings to the bingo organizations.

The complaints alleged Shelton signed checks on a Vietnow bank account although he was neither a bingo supervisor nor an authorized signer on the checking account.

They also contended Shelton was a member and officer of Amvets 350 during the term of its lease, and that membership rolls it obtained from the club “were falsified by changing the name of J.D. Shelton to B.W. Shelton (Jimmy Shelton’s brother).”

By law, a commercial lessor is prohibited from having a “direct or indirect interest” in the bingo operations or organizations leasing his facilities.

But Shelton, who is involved in the defense of the bingo operations, said Thursday that he had resigned from the Amvets club before the lease was activated. Shelton said his brother’s name came up because the club had listed his address under his brother’s name.

He also said that checkbooks from the concession operation at Vietnow, which he does run, and the bingo operation were similar, leading to the confusion on check signings.

“I didn’t sign any (bingo) checks,” said Shelton, who said prosecutors had not actively pushed any of the allegations involving him.

Shelton acknowledged that some checks from the bingo operations had not been fully filled out, but accredited the errors to oversight. And some of the falsification charges stemmed from an employee signing an operator’s name after the employee had been given power of attorney by the operator, who was ill, Shelton said.

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