Bingo and booze: law could be profitable for senior centers

SEATTLE -- Booze and Bingo may be a combination that brings much needed revenue to the state's senior centers.

Legislation proposed by State Senator Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, would allow non-profit senior centers to sell liquor without the current restrictions that limit sales to just 12 events per year, per location.

The intent is not to open up bars inside senior centers, but to attract non-seniors to key fundraising events that non-profits rely on.

"They can actually serve liquor and help the bottom line," Nelson said. "So we started hearing from a number of senior centers across the state this would really help them."

Nelson's bill would do away with the 12-day restriction and allow the non-profits to apply for a license to serve hard liquor, beer and wine.

"As an organization, we are about healthy aging, not drunken aging," said Joanne Donohue, vice president of Senior Services, which operated several senior centers in Seattle.

Donohue said there's no denying that serving up booze primarily at evening fundraisers brings in a crowd that's more apt to spend money.

"In catering to what people want, you actually have more of a net profit from your fundraising efforts than if you are serving soda, coffee and tea," Donohue said.

Nelson's proposal has passed out of the Senate and is now under consideration in the House. A companion House bill by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, has passed out of the House.

Both offer basically the same requirements. Centers must be run by a qualified non-profit, have hours that meet state liquor control board requirements, offer food along with the alcohol and require servers to by trained to recognize alcohol abuse.