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Ponca Tribe to try to keep lottery money in Oklahoma

WHITE EAGLE, Okla. - Times were hard for the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma.

Its bingo hall wasn't making any money, yet the tribe saw money exiting the state to Kansas and Texas for state lotteries. What they needed was a way to make their bingo hall pay and something innovative enough to stop the flow of money that went to other states for lottery tickets.

A little creativity and an idea that came from a chance meeting may just do the trick, when the Ponca Tribe premieres its jackpot bingo game every Tuesday starting Sept. 4.

The whole thing started when the tribe hired Delbert Cole in April. The tribal chairman told Cole the tribe was out of compliance with the National Indian Gaming Commission. Cole was hired to straighten things out.

"Actually the tribe was two violations behind, which equals about $50,000 in fines," Cole explained. "I cleared those issues up and by June 30th we were in compliance."

Cole had been named the overall director of the tribe's gaming and on June 29 he closed down the bingo hall because it wasn't making any money for the tribe. After some retraining, restructuring and reorganizing, the tribe reopened the bingo hall Aug. 1.

As Cole traveled around the area to advertise the grand re-opening, he met John Caldwell.

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Caldwell talked to the tribal council and proposed that the tribe sell tickets at area convenience stores for a large jackpot bingo that would be held once a week. Numbers on each ticket would be duplicated on a ticket at the bingo hall.

Proxy players, tribal members, would be hired to come in on Tuesdays and play tickets for customers who bought the reservation-tickets. One grand prize jackpot winner would come from the game, which could last for several hours and 90 prizes of lesser amounts would be paid out to other winners.

Players could check to see if they had won by telephone or by taking their ticket to the store where they purchased it.

The Ponca Tribal Council liked what it heard and Lot OBingo was born. The tribe has an agreement with Bingotron of Norman, Okla., and stores in the area are clamoring to sell the tickets, officials said. Apparently the idea of playing bingo without really having to be there is an idea that is catching on.

The Lot OBingo game of the Ponca Tribe will be the first tribally sponsored proxy bingo game in the nation. The first round of games will run for 26 weeks. The payout will be 60 percent of money taken in and the government will collect sales tax on the reservation- tickets.

The tribe is putting a lot of faith into the idea that people would rather buy a chance to win money in Oklahoma than travel out of state to get lottery tickets. The state of Oklahoma currently has no lottery and the tribe is hoping the idea will catch on and earn money for the tribe's programs.

Information on the Lot OBingo games have been sent to both the National Indian Gaming Commission and the state of Oklahoma, but neither has corresponded with the tribe endorsing or prohibiting it.

"We haven't heard anything yet," Cole said. "But we probably will."