Ladies make the call on bingo beef

Posted April 23, 2010, at 8:24 p.m.

I’m telling you once again that ladies of a certain age can get things done.

I say “ladies of a certain age” because if I use the term “tough old broads” apparently some people, including editors of this newspaper, can get a bit offended.

So I am not calling Maryann Wescott of Penobscot a feisty old broad. Or Mrs. Foss, either, whoever she may be.

If I’m lucky I someday will be a tough old broad, but it’s debatable whether I will want to be called one. Personally I find it a commendable term, but clearly the jury is still out on that.

So let’s just say that a physically fit, presumably smart sergeant with the Department of Public Safety — i.e. a police officer assigned to the Gaming Division — learned this week that a couple of women of a certain age who feel they and others have been mistreated by the government can make your life pretty damn miserable, especially if your boss is on vacation — and if your office has, shall we say, erred — and the governor’s office has been blamed — publicly.

This week, Mrs. Wescott and Mrs. Foss took on the Governor’s Office and the Special Investigation Unit of the state of Maine.

The bottom line is that Mrs. Wescott and Mrs. Foss and a handful of other senior citizens fought for and won the right to play one hour’s worth of free bingo once a week at the McDonald’s Restaurant in Bucksport.

Maine State Police Lt. David Bowler is the lead guy in charge of the Gaming Division, but he’s apparently off enjoying a spring break vacation with his family. That’s OK. I know him. He’s a very good guy. Even he deserves a vacation.

That left Sgt. Bill Gomane in charge when an inspector with the Special Investigation Unit in charge of gaming and weapons shut down a free weekly bingo game held for one hour on Thursday mornings at Bucksport McDonald’s.

The owners of the McDonald’s restaurant didn’t charge anything for the little game. They bought the bingo cards and the little prizes at a dollar store. But every Thursday morning the senior citizens, who gathered each morning for coffee anyway, were treated to an hour’s worth of bingo. Sometimes there were as many as 15 of them. They received their cards for free, but if they won the game they could choose a prize from the table.

“It could be a roll of paper towels or a package of tissues or maybe a dishcloth. That really wasn’t the point,” Wescott said this week. “The big prize came at the end. It was a blackout game and if you won you would get some coupons for a free McDonald’s meal.”

But someone from the area saw the travesty and complained to the Gaming Division of the Department of Public Safety. A conversation ensued between a gaming inspector and a McDonald’s representative, “and it didn’t go very well.”

The manager of the Bucksport McDonald’s informed the local senior citizen bingo players that the jig was up. No more illegal gambling on Thursday mornings.

Mrs. Wescott and Mrs. Foss, being the tough old broads (I mean the, educated ladies of some years), realized that something ridiculous was afoot. One wrote a letter that was printed in this newspaper and which someone in the governor’s office saw. The other one made a phone call.

And somewhere in an Augusta cubicle, Bill Gomane answered the phone while his boss sunned himself somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Things didn’t go as they should have when this came to our attention,” he bravely told me this week. “The governor’s office was the first to bring this incident to our attention and I think we have taken care of it.”

Though games of chance such as bingo or beano clearly are regulated by the state, the law — 17 MRSA-chapter 13-A, subsection 3-13-A — clearly states that there are exemptions built in which allow for groups 90 percent composed of people 62 and older to enter into games such as beano or bingo in which no profit is made.

“I have nothing against McDonald’s,” Gomane said with some wry humor.

“But do you have something against the elderly?” I asked.

“I don’t,” he said.

“Do you have a problem with Mrs. Wescott winning a roll of paper towels during an hour-long game on Thursday mornings?” I asked.

“I don’t,” Gomane replied, “But I’m thinking if there are any further questions we might need to call Lt. Bowler.”

“I don’t think we need to,” I replied. “I think Mrs. Wescott and Mrs. Foss have taken care of it.”

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