The owners of Racetrack Bingo in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, have been ordered to forfeit $6 million to the federal government after being convicted last month of operating an illegal gambling business that bilked local charities out of $8 million over eight years.

Racetrack bingo

Florida has some pretty strict gambling laws when it comes to bingo, almost all of which were flouted by the Masinos as they squeezed every cent out of ten local charitable organizations. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Larry and Dixie Masino — formerly husband and wife — were also convicted of numerous counts of laundering the proceeds of illegal bingo games at Racetrack Bingo, which is not a racetrack but simply a bingo hall named for its location on Racetrack Rd.

Florida has strict laws about bingo, which must be non-profit in nature — but profit was all that was on the minds of the Masinos when they tied a coalition of ten northwest Florida charities to a lengthy contract that saw them pay exorbitant fees for their bingo games.

Scamming Local Charities

Under state statutes, all the proceeds of  bingo must go to a charitable, non-profit organization — minus operating costs.

Every bingo game that takes place outside tribal reservations must be sponsored by charities that must also be “directly involved in its organization,” which translates to bringing in unpaid volunteers or charity members to work the halls.

But the Masinos were flouting the rules by employing their own paid staff to run the games, while charging the charities huge fees to “sponsor” the games.

Under the terms of their contract, each of the ten charities were required to ‘lease’ Racetrack Bingo’s hall for between $1,050 to $1,770 per bingo event, with each obligated to book two sessions per week. That means the coalition was paying the Masinos between $21,000 and $35,400 every seven days.

According to prosecutors, more than $20 million was generated by the duo’s illegal bingo games, of which they and their children personally kept $5,813,584. Representatives of the charities testified in court that, over the eight years of the contract, their cut of the profits had fallen from 51 percent to 18 percent.

‘Powerful Message’

The Masinos were arrested in 2016, following a joint investigation between the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Department, the FBI, and Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.

“The investigation and prosecution of financial crimes joins the criminal and civil enforcement resources of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement,” said US Attorney Lawrence Keefe for the Northern District of Florida.

“This multimillion-dollar forfeiture order delivers a powerful message to law breakers who would try to reap millions destined for legitimate charitable organizations,” he added.

A sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for March 25.