Attorney General: George F. Wandrak, Division of Special Revenue, 1997-008 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

April 1, 1997

George F. Wandrak
Acting Executive Director
Division of Special Revenue
555 Russell Road
Newington, CT 06111

Dear Director Wandrak:

You seek our advice concerning the proposal of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to introduce a Bingo type game as a new lottery product and inquire whether such a proposal is a permissible lottery game. It is our opinion that existing statutory provisions would prohibit the introduction of such a product.

The Connecticut Lottery Corporation was created by Public Act 96-212 and vested with the authority, inter alia, to "[o]perate and manage the lottery" and "[t]o introduce new lottery games, modify existing lottery games, [and] utilize existing and new technologies. . . ." Public Act 96-212,  7(a), (b)(2). The Corporation must "[c]omply with all laws, . . . and regulations . . . of the . . . state of Connecticut." Sec. 9(a)(1). The Corporation is also directed to "[c]omply with regulations, adopted by the division of special revenue . . . ." Sec. 8(a)(2).1

You have provided the following concise description of the proposed on-line bingo game:

The Connecticut Lottery will produce an on-line ticket at a cost of five dollars which contains five (5) game cards corresponding to five (5) pre-determined bet types. Each game card will contain one set of twenty-four (24) randomly generated and unique numbers from one (1) through seventy-five (75) with one (1) free space in the center of the game card (see Exhibit #2 attached). Drawings will be conducted on a weekly basis during a one-half hour televised program with a format similar to bingo whereby a performer will select and call letters and numbers for a predesignated arrangement of numbers on each game card. The first drawing will apply to the first four (4) bingo game cards designated as a bingo line, four corners, X, and picture frame. There will be a fixed prize structure for all four games unless the total value of set prizes in any bet type exceeds five hundred percent (500%) of the bet type sales for the drawing, which would force the game to go parimutuel to limit liability. The second drawing for the "high tier" bingo blackout bet type pool will be distributed in equal shares as a parimutuel prize to any/all winners.

As we have observed many times in the past, the term lottery is nowhere defined in the statutes and, hence, must be accorded its common and ordinary meaning which includes the basic elements of prize, consideration and chance. 92 Conn. Op. Atty. Gen., Letter to Demetrios Louziotis, Sr., January 24, 1992. The bingo type game, above described, clearly fits this definition and hence the conclusion follows that the proposed format is a lottery type game. However, the analysis does not conclude at this point for we must consider the impact of the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat.  7-169 upon this proposal.

Conn. Gen. Stat.  7-169(d) provides:

No bingo game or series of bingo games shall be promoted, operated or played unless the same is sponsored and conducted exclusively by a charitable, civic, educational, fraternal, veterans' or religious organization, volunteer fire department or grange. . . .

Bingo is defined in Conn. Gen. Stat  7-169(a) as:

. . . a game in which each player receives a card containing several rows of numbers and, as numbers are drawn or otherwise obtained by chance and publicly announced, the player first having a specified number of announced numbers appearing on his card in a continuous straight line or covering a previously designated arrangement of numbers on such card is declared the winner. . . .

The Connecticut Lottery Corporation commissioned the law firm of Carmody & Torrance to opine if "this proposed lottery game in bingo format constitutes a 'lottery' rather than 'bingo' under Connecticut law." That firm, focusing upon the distinctions between "bingo" as defined in the statutes, i.e., Conn. Gen. Stat.  7-169(a), and the proposed new lottery game, concluded that the latter was a permissible lottery game. We disagree.

The basic distinctions, as spelled out in this letter of advice are: while there is only one winner per bingo game, the new lottery game is designed to have multiple winners; while cards must be purchased, winners determined and prizes awarded on the same day under the bingo rules, the new lottery game envisions advance sale of tickets (cards) through a licensed lottery agent.

In our opinion, these are truly distinctions without a difference. The basics of each game are virtually indistinguishable: a player, having purchased a card, participates in the game as numbers are called out. One wins by matching the numbers called on the card or ticket in a specified pattern. In Bingo, the player must be present at a physical location within a permitting municipality, while under the Lottery Corporation's proposal the player may2 participate in the new lottery game by viewing a televised drawing on a specific date and time.

As previously quoted, Conn. Gen. Stat.  7-169(d) contains the expressed judgment of the Connecticut Legislature that "no bingo game or series of bingo games shall be promoted, operated or played unless the same is sponsored and conducted exclusively by" a qualified organization which has been issued a permit by the Division of Special Revenue. It is telling that the Legislature issued a blanket prohibition against the playing of Bingo while conferring an exclusive right upon certain specified organizations. "When a statute creates an exception to a general rule, it is to be construed strictly and its language is not to be extended beyond its evident nature." Kulis v. Moll, 172 Conn. 104, 110, 374 A.2d 133 (1976); See also Conservation Commission v. Price, 193 Conn. 414, 424, 479 A.2d 187 (1984). It is apparent that this principle of strict construction is applicable in these circumstances and compels the conclusion that the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, not being one of the listed organizations, is not permitted to fashion and present a bingo type lottery.3

Based upon all of the foregoing, it is our opinion that, absent a legislative change, the Bingo game developed by the Connecticut Lottery Corporation may not be introduced to the Connecticut consumer as a lottery product since its design and play so clearly conflicts with Conn. Gen. Stat.  7-169.4

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Richard M. Sheridan
Assistant Attorney General

RB/RMS/td


Footnote:

1 We are aware that the Division has proposed regulations pursuant to this authority which defines the term lottery as "any game offered by the Connecticut Lottery Corporation and approved in writing by the Division . . . ."

2 In point of fact, the player need not view the televised proceeding since the winning numbers will be later publicized and may be verified through the on-line computer system.

3 We are aware that the Division of Special Revenue, when it administered the State lottery, offered instant Bingo games. Such type of games are currently available under the auspices of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation. These games, in our view, are fundamentally different than traditional Bingo since there is no live "call" with these instant tickets and all winners are predetermined.

4 This conclusion is reinforced when it is considered that Conn. Gen. Stat. 7-169(b) permits a municipality to completely prohibit the playing of bingo within its geographic borders. This "home rule" option would be completely thwarted if a citizen having purchased a bingo-lottery ticket, could participate in the playing of Bingo in a municipality which has forbidden such conduct.


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