Beach bingo: no lifeguard on duty

“With one person in charge of vice, bingo becomes a low priority.” So said Officer Joe Palmer, the one person in charge of vice for the Asheville Police Department, during a recent interview. In between juggling multiple phone calls, paperwork, my questions and the occasional visitor to his Montford substation, Palmer said, “We receive very few complaints about bingo, and the calls are usually from competitors — other bingo operators.”

But in 1996, one of those complaints led to an undercover investigation of a charitable-bingo hall. The Clingman Avenue venue was operated by James Robert Metcalf for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. After two nights of undercover bingo, an Asheville police officer compiled evidence that Metcalf was exceeding the $2,500 payout limit imposed by the state on charitable-bingo sessions. Officers raided the establishment on April 8, 1996.

According to court documents, Metcalf pleaded guilty to two charges of violating state bingo statutes: one charge for each evening he was observed exceeding the payout limit. Metcalf was fined $50 for each class II misdemeanor, plus court costs, and his license to run a charitable bingo was suspended for one year.

Today, James Robert Metcalf can be found at his beach-bingo establishment on Haywood Road, in West Asheville. The discreetly named I.O.O.F. Beach Bingo Hall has a loyal following. Metcalf seems proud of the family entertainment his hall provides, and the numerous charitable causes to which he contributes a portion of the proceeds.

Officer Palmer, who conducted the 1996 raid on Metcalf’s establishment, said, “We have received information concerning the operation of his new beach bingo on Haywood Road.” But Palmer declined to comment further, citing a pending investigation.

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