By Valerie Menard
The Last Bingo in East Austin [Excerpt]
As the gentrification tidal wave continues to trample Latino residents and businesses in its path, another casualty looms. Located at the corner of East Eleventh Street and IH35 in a bright pink strip mall, Mexitas Restaurant has closed, resulting in a loss of 12 jobs, and Lucky Lady Bingo will soon be homeless. Unlike Jumpolin, the landlords
alerted the restaurant and bingo consultant, Jos. Uriegas, that they were trying to sell the building. The potential ripple effect however, may be greater than most. Passed in 2001, the Bingo Enabling Act established Charitable Bingo
Operations in Texas to be overseen by the Charitable Bingo Operations Division of the Texas Lottery Commission.
As bingo parlors, Lucky Lady Lucky and Treasure Island Bingo on Oltorf remit profits to non-profit organizations. Since 2008, they have contributed about $10,000–$15,000 monthly to nine of them including Red Salmon Arts, founded by the late Chicano poet, Raul Salinas. “The closing of Lucky Lady would be devastating to several Latino organizations like Red Salmon Arts because the support the bingo parlor provides has become a cornerstone of our sustainability,” shared Red Salmon Arts executive director Lilia Rosas. “Through this grassroots support, Red Salmon Arts has achieved a different level of independence, which is beneficial to our ongoing survival and growth. Put simply, we consider ourselves fortunate that we can count on Lucky Lady so that we can maintain and expand the visionand mission of Red Salmon Arts.” According to Uriegas, when Lucky Lady opened seven years ago, the property owners were upside down on their loan and agreed to sell the property to Uriegas and partners for $4 million dollars. Since then, gentrification has inflated the value so that the asking price today is not feasible. “We intended to buy the building so
that we could provide office space for Latino non-profit organizations and provide financial training and expertise to help them become more sustainable,” explained Uriegas. “It was supposed to be a social venture development for the Mexican American community.” His understanding is that the property owners hope to attract multiuse development, like an apartment complex, but height restrictions will require support from the community for a variance. “We’re looking for a new property but we wanted to stay in the barrio,” said Uriegas. “The way property values are increasing, we’re being pushed out.” Whether in East Austin or another emerging Latino barrio like Northeast Austin, Uriegas asserted that Lucky Lady will reopen. Regarding the bigger picture of gentrification, he’s less hopeful. “We can address gentrification as something that’s already happened, not something we can reign in,“ he said. He blamed previous city leaders for not understanding the economics of what has happened in East Austin and for creating an expanding underclass that includes many Latinos. “Latinos own one fourth of one percent of the total assets of this community,” he asserted. “When you don’t own anything you have very little power.”