Barbara Gann was busy helping prepare for the Elks Lodge’s usual round of bingo players Monday afternoon, less than a week after Calhoun County voters passed an amendment that may have banned the lodge’s bingo night.
“I don’t think it was meant for an organization like us,” said Gann, treasurer of Elks Lodge No. 189 on South Noble Street.
Last week, county residents voted 69-31 percent in favor of a state constitutional amendment that would ban bingo halls from operating within 1,000 yards of a residence anywhere within Calhoun County.
Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, brought the amendment to the Legislature after hearing from residents of White Oak Drive, a rural private drive on the northern edge of the county, near Southside.
Residents said a bingo hall at the end of the road, Big Hit Bingo, brought traffic and noise to the neighborhood before the bingo hall was shut down in 2016. Advocates for the amendment said the measure would keep any bingo operation from opening again at the site.
When the bill was in the Legislature, advocates for the bill said they didn’t know of any bingo operation that would be affected by the amendment. Fledgling bingo halls in Piedmont and Hobson City opened and quickly shut their doors in the past two years. The Anniston Star, in the days before the vote, even reported – erroneously, it seems – that no existing bingo operation would be affected by the amendment.
After the vote, a Star reader pointed out that the vote might affect the Elks Lodge. Three nights a week, from the group’s headquarters on South Noble, the lodge hosts a crowd of 75 to 100 people, according to Gann. The proceeds go to Christmas gifts for poor families, college scholarships and supplies for local food banks.
“It gets spread out pretty quickly,” Gann said.
From the street, the lodge appears to be on a boundary where industrial Anniston meets the city’s commercial district. East of Noble, near the lodge, are furniture shops and auto dealerships. West of Noble, where you can see past the railroad cars parked on the tracks, stand rusting warehouses.
But past the tracks and the warehouses and a line of trees lies Front Street, lined with houses. On a map, the street appears to be about 600 feet from the lodge – well within the amendment’s 3,000-foot limit.
“They don’t bother me,” said Front Street resident Nancy Short whose house is perhaps the closest to the Elks Lodge. “I don’t hear anything from them.”
Gann, the Elks Lodge treasurer, said she voted for the amendment. She said she wasn’t aware of the measure until Election Day, and limiting bingo in residential areas sounded good to her. On Monday, she said she was confident the amendment wouldn’t affect the lodge.
“We’re not in a residential area,” Gann said. “We’ve got a railroad and a creek and a foundry between us and them.”
James Bennett, a board member for the Calhoun County Bingo Regulatory Commission, said he didn’t see the amendment as a threat to Elks Lodge bingo.
“They have a different situation out there,” Bennett said. “Their entrance is on a public street. You don’t have to drive through a neighborhood.”
If the amendment does indeed affect Elks Lodge bingo, a fix could be months away. A new amendment would have to be approved by the Legislature, which doesn’t meet until next year, and would have to go before the voters county-wide.
The bingo vote was one of six ballot measures Calhoun County voters weighed in on last week. Two of the amendments were local and four were statewide.
Each of the amendments passed by at least a 25-point margin.