Bingo is coming back to the Biddeford 50+ Club.

Club members, mostly women in their 70s and 80s, have persuaded the state to reverse its decision a month ago to shut down their traditional weekly bingo games. State officials stopped the games because the club didn’t have a license to run them.

Maine State Police announced the agreement at a meeting in Biddeford on Thursday. The state will allow the club to resume running bingo games every Wednesday afternoon at the J. Richard Martin Community Center, as it has for more than two decades.

The members are ecstatic, said club president Frank Defrancesco.

“It’s important to a lot of them,” he said. “They’ve been going to it for years.”

“Oh good!” said Rita Murphy, 83, of Biddeford, when a reporter told her that bingo was back. “For the old people, it’s the only thing we have to do.”

At issue was whether the Biddeford 50+ Club could give winners cash prizes. The club typically gives away about $10 to $12 for each game, according to players, until the last game of the day, when the jackpot could be as much as $100, depending on how much money the players have paid in.

State officials ruled a month ago that the club could give only candy as prizes, not cash, because it didn’t have a license.

That surprised club officials, who believed that the games were legal, said Debbie Lizotte, the club’s senior program coordinator.

By state law, if at least 90 percent of an organization’s members are 62 or older, it can operate bingo without a license if the games are for “their own entertainment and recreation and not for profit.”

Lizotte said that because the club never made a profit — it always paid out all of the money to the players — it was in compliance.

State officials had a different reading of the statute, concluding that it prohibited the players, not just the organization, from making money from the games.

Several dozen members of the club met with city officials last week and asked them for help keeping bingo alive because it’s an important part of people’s social lives. The games typically attract 75 to 90 players each week.

It’s not the gambling that interests them, said Lorraine West, 82, of Arundel, who has been playing bingo with the club for more than two decades.

“We meet a lot of friends. That’s it,” she said. “Oh my God, I miss it so much,” after not playing since last month.

On Thursday, Lt. Scott Ireland, with the state police special investigations unit, met with city officials including City Manager John Bubier and Mayor Alan Casavant, and officers of the 50+ Club.

Ireland said the Attorney General’s Office had researched the Legislature’s intent when it passed the law in the early 1980s, and concluded that it was to allow groups like the 50+ Club to run bingo games, just as they’ve being doing all these years.

He said the ban on profits applies to groups, not players.

“The game is back on. They are good to go,” Ireland said in an interview after the meeting.

He said he is not aware of any other group in Maine that would be affected by the interpretation of state law that led to the shutdown in Biddeford.

Lizotte said club members are pleased that state officials took the time to research the issue, and gratified that Ireland delivered the news personally and not just by letter.

“The state took the time to look at something affecting a lot of people who were really upset they couldn’t have their bingo,” she said.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 7981-6369 or at:

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