Trailer Estates residents protest bingo restrictions

skennedy@bradenton.comApril 17, 2013 

MANATEE -- Several dozen angry resident demonstrated Wednesday to protest restrictions on bingo games at Trailer Estates park.

Holding signs that read "Bingo IS Legal," "Let Our Seniors Play Bingo," and "This IS Elder Abuse," the protesters shouted at cars going by, getting honks in return.

Resident Myrtle Hollin, 97, was among the demonstrators. She said she enjoyed playing "because it perks me up and makes me feel better.

"We enjoy playing bingo. We have fun and have no troublemakers -- until this."

Residents said the Manatee County Sheriff's Office threatened to halt the popular bingo games because it constituted gambling.

For years, bingo players had bet small amounts of money, which went into a cash jackpot paid to winners.

A letter dated March 28 from Sheriff Brad Steube said Trailer Estates "does not fall into any of the categories of nonprofit entities permitted to conduct bingo games."

Consultation with park attorney Mark Barnebey produced a compromise for Wednes

day night's bingo game: Winners would get prizes instead of cash, Barnebey said.

Not all residents favor bingo. Park resident Mary Lou Smith said she filed a complaint to end the games.

"All I have been trying to do is get them to follow the law," she said. "Their own attorneys told them not once, but twice, to stop. My original complaint was I was protesting my assessment because my taxpayer dollars were being spent on gambling supplies and equipment."

In 2008, Smith and her sister, Sharon Denson, sued the park, claiming Sunshine Law violations.

Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan ruled in favor of Trailer Estates after a seven-day, nonjury trial. Dunnigan found mobile home park staff made an adequate attempt to accommodate the sisters' public records requests.

The Trailer Estates Park and Recreational District, 6814 Canada Blvd., became a governmental body subject to the state's Sunshine and Open Records laws when it was established by the Florida Legislature in 1969 as a special taxing district.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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