Terrorists Playing Bingo in Kentucky

One of the sillier movie-plot threats I’ve seen recently:

Kentucky has been awarded a federal Homeland Security grant aimed at keeping terrorists from using charitable gaming to raise money.

The state Office of Charitable Gaming won the $36,300 grant and will use it to provide five investigators with laptop computers and access to a commercially operated law-enforcement data base, said John Holiday, enforcement director at the Office of Charitable Gaming.

The idea is to keep terrorists from playing bingo or running a charitable game to raise large amounts of cash, Holiday said.

Posted on October 25, 2005 at 3:30 PM31 Comments


ac October 25, 2005 4:22 PM

Not totally ridiculous in the US
Prior to 9/11 and Oklahoma City, US domestic terrorist activity in most people’s minds was the assassinations of doctors and bombings of women’s clinics. These are linked (in people’s minds, at least) to some churches, and churches (in some people’s minds, at least) run lots of fundraising activities, bingo being one of the most stereotypical.

Now, yes, there are certainly stereotypes at play here, and probably evidence of links between bingo and Eric Rudolph characters are sketchy. But maybe that’s not the case–maybe there IS some evidence indicating that’s how this particular type of terrorism is funded. If so, blocking a known method of terrorist fundraising sounds fine to me.

More likely than not, though, it’s a movie-plot threat. And my guess is they people they’re concerned about don’t have names like Eric.

pete October 25, 2005 4:24 PM

Sadly this will continue as long as people can get money by thinking up movie-plot threats. Its less work than turning them into actual films.

Shura October 25, 2005 4:35 PM

@ac: How could you possibly make sure that terrorists (or any criminals, for that matter) don’t benefit from bingo, short of disallowing bingo games altogether? And if you do, how do you prevent them from making money in any other way that’s open to everyone else as well? As long as people can earn money, in whatever way, terrorists will be able, too.

And using some sort of profiling (which I assume is what you mean when you talk about people who don’t have names like “Eric”) also isn’t going to work. It’s like trying to combat bacteria or viri – if you’re not 100% effective, you’re just strengthening those who do manage to get around the measures you’re attempting, no matter whether it’s antibiotics (against bacteria) or profiling (against terrorists). If you start looking for young and middle-aged Arab-looking males, then the next terrorists will be elderly white women. As long as decision-makers don’t understand this, there won’t be any progress made concerning the prevention of future terrorist attacks.

Jarrod October 25, 2005 4:44 PM


That’s not true. When using antiseptics, you’re not killing all of the bacteria and viruses, but you’re not necessarily strengthening what is left.

Similarly, removing a few terrorists can be more effective than removing many, if the right ones are taken out. Once the structure is destabilized with more senior and/or experienced members removed, the remaining group can be severely weakened as plans are not thought through as thoroughly as they might have been, and infighting can further distract members from their work. This happens in organized crime sometimes when a senior member dies or is cut off from communication, and the organization turns against itself as members try to claw their way to higher positions.

jammit October 25, 2005 5:03 PM

As far as I know (which isn’t a lot), most of the terrorists caught so far have had regular, plain jobs. Most domestic terrorists are pretty “clean”. No parking tickets, no funny stuff. If you’re trying to be sneaky, it doesn’t help to make yourself a target for investigation.

Nick October 25, 2005 5:36 PM

@Jarrod: You’re not directly strengthening surviving bacteria, but the ones that survive are resistant. They reproduce, and soon all bacteria are resistant to the antibiotic.

Along similar lines, if you concentrate your screening on profiling, then the terrorists that don’t match your profile are ‘resistant’ to it and can more or less act with impunity.

Andy October 25, 2005 5:59 PM


The article is clear that they’re after terrorist financing rather than terrorist attacks. Hamas used to run cigarette smugling in the US and finance terrorist operations in Insrael.

Paul Crowley October 25, 2005 6:03 PM

I’d guess that this is about getting perfectly ordinary fraud-prevention/money-laundering-detection money out of a budget earmarked for anti-terrorist measures.

Anonymous October 25, 2005 6:48 PM

I agree; and the first thing I thought about when I read the article was ‘what sort of taxes/fees are collected from these bingo games, and who wants their cut.’

We need someone to coin a new term for this type of spending. Any ideas?

Davi Ottenheimer October 25, 2005 9:12 PM

“$36,300 grant and will use it to provide five investigators with laptop computers and access to a commercially operated law-enforcement data base”

Whoa. I want one of those laptops. I bet they have killer 3D graphics cards and lots of processing power, etc. for superior “anti-terrorist visualization” (previously referred to as “movies”).

Thomas Sprinkmeier October 25, 2005 9:41 PM

So this guy managed to con the govt into paying for laptops and training for his detectives.

I assume they’ll be able to use these to solve actual, real crimes and thus benefit their community

Good on him. At least some of the “anti-terrirism” money is filtering downto where it might do some good.

Davi Ottenheimer October 26, 2005 12:48 AM

“So this guy managed to con the govt…Good on him”

Funny. So there you have it, how to qualify for US anti-terror funds in a nut-shell.

From a reverse perspective here is an amusing article about people who want to give “pork barrel” money back to Congress to help others:


“The idea was that money in the transportation bill for things like a Packard museum in Warren, Ohio; a garage at a private university in Tennessee; and horse trails in High Knob, Va., among other things, could be better spent on people who had lost everything in what may be the nation’s worst natural disaster.”

It doesn’t mention the US$180 million dollar indoor rain forest in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, given US$50 million in federal funds last year. Sadly, the project seems to be short US$90 million right now.

Is it just me or does it seem obvious they could just re-title plans for the 200 foot dome covering 4.5 acres the “Iowa Child and Anti-Terror Rainforest”, and watch the money pour in…

Here’s a pretty good overview of the situation on the ground:


Fred X. Quimby October 26, 2005 1:56 AM

How to Spot Suspicious Terrorist Bingo Operations

1) Bingo cards printed with Arabic, Cyrillic, or Other Un-American Lettering

2) Explosive Door Prizes

3) Elderly Players Carrying Hidden Sword-Canes

4) Drum Holding Bingo Balls has the Word “SARIN” Stencilled on the Side

5) Stamps to Mark Out Called Numbers Leave Skull-and-Crossbones Imprints

6) Staff Shows Tendency to Fire AK-47s into the Air on Every Win

7) Catholic Charities Enforcers Caught Roughing Up the Management

sidelobe October 26, 2005 6:00 AM

It occurs to me that terrorist organizations and organized crime organizations have a lot in common. Organized crime organizations have a history of using gaming to raise funds. I don’t see why terrorists doing it is any less real.

Ed T. October 26, 2005 7:51 AM

No, but you will have to remove your shoes before you are allowed to buy the ticket, and every 10th person (selected at random) will have to undergo a full cavity search by US government workers (non-union, of course) and provide 4 forms of photo ID.

Ed T. October 26, 2005 7:58 AM

I wonder if the team of 5 investigators will be named “Bingo Security Enforcement”?

Just think about it: BSE — what an appropriate name.

Of course, the last sentence in the article showed they are not entirely klooless: maybe if they used the grant to obtain forensics accounting training in the first place, his staff could do real investigative work, and not be matching bingo-hall frequentors against some terrorist watch list.


Fuzzy October 26, 2005 8:14 AM

Color me confused.

How is this going to work? “The idea is to keep terrorists from playing bingo or running a charitable game…”.
How will the five investigators with access to a law-enforcement data base stop it? Are they going to arrest the bingo players/callers?
In other words are these “terrorists” criminals or are they simply “suspected” terrorists? If they are criminals, aren’t there more efficient ways to hunt them?

I thought most law-enforcement data bases were run by governments. This claims to be a “commercially operated law-enforcement data base”.
Is this an attempt to find a use for MATRIX (Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange)?

Christian Kaiser October 26, 2005 8:38 AM


“Most domestic terrorists are pretty ‘clean’. No parking tickets, no funny stuff.”

Be careful what you speak. Next time, all “clean” citizens are suspected of terrorism – surely someone who wants to stay invisible (or looks like he wants…) is suspect.


Mike Sherwood October 26, 2005 8:58 AM


This is why it’s important to regularly break the law. For example, I regularly go 10-15MPH over the speed limit. It’s enough over that I could get stopped, but low enough that there’s likely a better target.

I remember one interview with an officer who said that driving the speed limit was one of the tactics of habitual drunk drivers. It seemed kinda funny that he was basically admitting that he would pull people over regardless of if he observed them violating any laws.

While there is plenty of room for abuse to justify some level of paranoia, there simply aren’t enough resources to investigate everyone. This is no different than the Manila Times article basically saying they have found a 100% correlation between terrorists and human beings. Since correlation == causation, everyone is a terrorist.

JD October 26, 2005 9:07 AM

Whenever our federal government “solves” a problem by throwing tons of money at it, you can figure on approximately the following:

  • 30% goes to bureaucratic overhead
  • 40% goes to boondoggles
  • 30% goes to sheer waste, fraud, and theft

Somewhere a few bucks might fall through the cracks and actually do some good.

Violet October 26, 2005 9:07 AM

If we are going to give out funds based on movie-plot scenarios – I want to see the movie. Don’t you know that the big location for the next James Bond movie is a Kentucky church basement bingo parlor? James in his tux, surrounded by elderly ladies in plus size Walmart clothes – “I believe he called B-9.”

jayh October 26, 2005 9:45 AM

Playing bingo is a particularly BAD way to raise money (maybe terrorists should be encouraged to expend their resources doing so)

Running bingo games requires licensing already, so operators can be vetted independently, this new stuff is just PR show.

Paul October 26, 2005 9:48 AM

I have a heavily wooded backyard with a ravine in which terrorists might be growing marijuana in order to sell it and finance their terroristic activities. Can I apply for a grant to patrol this area? I think $54,600 might be a good start.

Steven October 26, 2005 10:15 AM

I’ve worked for the public sector before. This is report does not surprise me in the least. Small agencies do this kind of thing all the time to add extra dollars or equipment to their budget. When you’re poorly funded you have to get creative in order to survive.

jammit October 26, 2005 10:31 AM

Thomas Sprinkmeier has a point. If you can’t beat ’em, take their money.

@Christian and Mike Sherwood
My little brother (a cop) has a very good record at catching drug transporters. He “courtesy” stops people going 5 mi/hr under the speed limit. I personally set my cruise to 5mi/hr over.

Jilara October 26, 2005 1:25 PM

Since in the past, there have been certain Native American groups and individuals who have been considered terrorists by the FBI, this might not be aimed at the people most people think of in association with the word, nowadays. At least my cynical side wonders about that, since “Indian Bingo” has always been popular.

Davi Ottenheimer October 26, 2005 6:29 PM

@ Paul

Interesting you should mention that. Some say tighter border controls after 9/11 and a softening of national park funds together should be blamed for a big rise in marijuana farming on public land:


“Only seven drug-enforcement agents are assigned to police California’s 20 million acres of federal forests. Rangers estimate that they discover as few as a third of the pot farms growing on public lands – and more than half of those are left untouched for lack of personnel to investigate them. When forest fires demand extra bodies, as was the case during last year’s drought, even more cannabis is left to harvest.”

Interesting to note that growers do not appear to act very threatened, or secure their obscure locations.


“We’re finding a whole lot more than we ever found before, so they must not be hiding them too good. They’re doing the same old careless things they’ve always done.”

dragonfrog October 27, 2005 11:31 AM

@Shura: How could you possibly make sure that terrorists (or any criminals, for that matter) don’t benefit from bingo, short of disallowing bingo games altogether?

Actually, this will guarantee that only criminals profit from bingo – since by definition anyone profiting from bingo becomes a criminal.

It’s the classic backwards argument for drug prohibition: International criminal rings and narco-terrorists (I’ve never quite understood that one) are profiting from the marijuana trade. To prevent this, we must make it even more illegal.

Steve Wardrip January 14, 2006 9:59 PM

I think they should spend another $36,300 for a study on why non-terrorists would play Bingo in the first place.

Joann November 16, 2008 2:38 PM

This is the silliest thing I have heard in years! Does anyone here know how little money actually goes to the charity (or terrorist in this case)? Because rent and supplies cost charities so much the state puts them out of business because there isn’t enough left over to hold on to their license. Poor Poor way to make money for a terrorist. But someone got new laptops. Wow only in Kentucky.

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