December 17, 2017
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Game of Chance

Rioting crowd overturns police cars during 1945 Bingo game
Newspaper article from the Evansville Courier and Evansville Press in 1945 printed stories of the Bingo raid.

One of the most colorful mayors in Evansville’s history was Republican Manson Reichert. Elected in 1942 as the Indiana municipal election law changed making city elections off a year, Reichert’s term lasted five years. His school board fired, then rehired a popular coach at Central High School (Glen Bretz), which triggered walkouts at all three city high schools. Reichert became the only sitting mayor to be arrested when in April 1947 he was booked on charges of voter fraud (charges were later dropped).

But for many years he was remembered as the anti-gambling mayor who triggered riots in Downtown Evansville.

In 1944, Reichert pressed his city council to pass a strict anti-gambling law in the city. This measure impacted local charities from operating games of chance, including the ever-popular Bingo games and slot machines many charities owned. The law exempted religious charities from the Bingo law, but prohibited it from all other entities.

By June 1945, the local Democratic party was looking for ways to embarrass Reichert and the Young Men’s Democrat Club announced a Bingo night at the Democrat Headquarters, then located on Main Street near First Street. June 11 was a very warm day, and there was little breeze as throngs of curious citizens converged on the Downtown business district. Young people climbed fire escapes on nearby buildings.

Members of the Democrat party faithful crowded into the second floor auditorium as the leader of the Men’s Club announced the first Bingo numbers after spinning the metal cage containing the numbered ping pong balls. At that moment, four police officers and a detective announced over the microphone that the game was closed, the eight operators were under arrest, and all guests were to leave or be subject to arrest, too. Word spread outside where nearly 10,000 people had converged on the now cordoned off intersection.

Squad cars pulled up on either side of the intersection and officers made a pathway for those in the building to come out and be taken into custody. Around 9 p.m., a mob of young men started rocking the two empty police cars parked in the intersection. Both cars were overturned, and gasoline spilled into the street. Patrolman Sam Freeman bolted at a young spectator who was about to toss a lit cigarette into the fuel.

The rioting crowd backed up to the sidewalks along First Street, and the building was exited and all eight officials from the Democrat Club were taken into custody.

Charges were eventually filed against several young men who had damaged the police cruisers, but all charges were dropped against the Young Democrats, and the law was amended to include political Bingo games.

The Evansville Press reported that families gathered in the street to watch the spectacle, and one little boy in a cowboy outfit was pointing his toy gun at passersby, but instead of yelling “Bang Bang,” he shouted “Bingo!”

Reichert was defeated for re-election in 1947 by the man he previously defeated in 1942, William Dress, which ended one of the most colorful administrations in the city’s history.

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