ST. PAUL (AP) -- Authorities have been aggressively targeting charitable gambling abuse in St. Paul during the past half year. The result: 30 investigations into organizations that engage in state-sanctioned gambling and felony theft charges against three people.
City officials say more charges are likely along with more scrutiny into the regulation of charitable gambling groups that do business in the city.
In each of the cases that resulted in charges, a person was accused of taking money that had been raised by a nonprofit organization through the sale of pull-tab games or similar gambling.
City licensing officials and police launched an investigation in May to look into what is a $75-million-a-year industry in St. Paul. Charitable gambling -- including bingo, raffles and pull-tabs -- is used by booster clubs, churches, business associations and sports teams to raise funds and generates $1.4 billion annually statewide.
"I don't believe there is a widespread problem, but you'll always have issues when you're dealing with a $75 million cash industry," said police Sgt. Jim Ramstad.
The investigations have involved roughly 15 organizations, some the subject of more than one investigation. A felony theft charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $20,000 fine, but most offenders simply repay the money and do community service.
Roger Curtis, licensing director for the city, and Ramstad said a lack of oversight in the past emboldened some people involved with charitable gambling groups to take money for their personal use, although sometimes the money would be secretly repaid later.
There are approximately 95 sites citywide that host such activities, and Curtis said city inspectors have gone undercover to investigate.
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