The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Bingo Terror

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


In October 2005, the Kentucky Office of Charitable Gaming won a $36,300 grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to protect bingo halls from terrorists.  The money will pay for laptop computers with access to a law-enforcement database.  Authorities are concerned that terrorists may attempt to raise large amounts of cash by  playing bingo or running a charitable game. 

John Holiday, enforcement director at the Kentucky Office of Charitable Gaming, told the Lexington Herald-Leader, that he did not know of any terrorists currently profiting from Kentucky bingo.  “But the potential there, to me, is just huge,” he said.  “I actually went on the Web and did a lot of research about this.  There are articles that have linked terrorism to charitable gaming.” 

Holiday’s comments illustrate the problem with Homeland Security grants not being allocated on the basis of risk.  There was never an objective assessment that found a higher risk of terrorist infiltration in Kentucky’s bingo halls than other possible areas of employment.  Instead, a single state official obtained the federal grant based on a hypothetical scenario he pieced together from articles on the Internet.

Furthermore, a recent article in The American Conservative (02/13/2005) calls into question the axiom to “follow the money” in terrorist investigations.  In his “Deep Background” column, former CIA officer Philip Girardi reports the finding of a Scotland Yard investigation that the July 2005 attacks in London’s bus and subway systems were financed by a single bomber (and part-time teacher) at a cost of $1,750.  Likewise, the 2003 Madrid bombings and the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali were funded and carried out by local terrorists.  Writes Girardi, “That only such a small sum was needed and that the money was raised legitimately, through normal employment, calls into question the assumption that the most effective way to identify and arrest terrorist cells is through monitoring their financing.”

In short, a takeover of the Kentucky bingo industry would not be necessary to finance a terrorist attack; terrorists could just as easily be landscaping or working at McDonald’s. 

The fiscal 2006 Homeland Security appropriations bill gives greater weight to risk in the distribution of DHS grants.  The $765 million Urban Area Security Initiative, which allocates funds entirely based on risk, is now limited to 35 metropolitan regions.  Smaller regions that have received grants in the past may still apply but will not receive money unless acute need is proven.  The Department’s two other grant programs, State Homeland Security grants and Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention grants, still guarantee every state 0.75 percent of total funds, which results in less-populated states getting more funding on a per-capita basis. However, the appropriations bills improves the programs by requiring the remainder of the funds be distributed on the basis of risk instead of by formula.

Unfortunately, the appropriations bill is only law for the current fiscal year.  Until Congress makes permanent a policy that allocates all DHS grants on the basis of risk,  taxpayers may get stuck paying for more anti-terror lottery squads.

-- Jessica Shoemaker

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