Bad bingo behavior? Reporter finds that not to be the case

By on November 13, 2013


MELINDA S. ELMER Record Express Correspondent

, Staff Writer

Photo by Stan Hallâ?©Gareth Diem, Brickerville bingo volunteer for the past 16 years, helps one of the Tuesday night winners.

This is not your average family-reunion-style bingo game. And though it may not be Big Business, it is a big deal and the players take it seriously because there is some serious money on the line.

The Brickerville Fire Company has sponsored weekly bingo game for about 35 years. I participated for the first time last week, after reading in the Record that some first-time participants apparently ran afoul of some of the regulars last month. The editor wanted to see how another newbie would be treated.

This correspondent had a great time!

I convinced my sister to go along with me, and although we didn’t win anything, we did spend an enjoyable two hours with some nice folks.

My editor had given fire company president Kurt Gardner a courtesy call to let him know that a reporter would be in the crowd. I had hoped that this would be an "undercover" assignment, with Gardner keeping my identity a secret, but he welcomed me just inside the door, along with photographer Stan Hall who had arrived earlier.

"You’ve been outed," my sister whispered.

Gardner immediately hooked me up with Willy, (later identified as Wilbert May, chairman and charter member of the bingo committee) who showed me where to purchase my bingo cards and got me and my sister "daubers" to mark our cards.

No buttons or little round plastic marker chips; "a dauber will be better than a pen." Serious business.

Then there was the process of finding us suitable seats. It looked like many people had arrived early to take advantage of the good food offered by the Auxiliary. Most players were ready to go by 6:45; bingo begins at 7.

Both Gardner and May looked over the room, and then looked again. Gardner finally suggested the first table by the entrance and told us that the folks already seated there would be very nice and willing to assist newcomers.

Before the games began, Gardner took the mike and told the crowd about the recent letter to the editor from an unhappy player, and said that he’s sure that’s not the reputation the players want or deserve. He then read his reply that was printed in last week’s Record.

Although I never asked and never got my tablemates’ names, they were all kind and helpful. (There were open seats at the table all evening). The lady across the table from my sister told us to mark all the "free" spaces on our cards, because "that will help you see the patterns, especially if you never played bingo before."

At least not high-stakes bingo.

She was right. The games required not just horizontal, vertical and diagonal, or even "postage stamp" configurations to win. There were "V-shapes" in every game, and special games of "block of nine," "big diamond," "inside frame," "kite," "letter X," "crazy T" and more.

And that doesn’t include the special cards for "Speedball" for an additional fee, where the entire card must be dabbed out to win.

Our table-mate kept an eye on our cards as well as her own the whole evening, pointing out situations where we needed only one more number to win or where we had missed a number.

That brings me to another item that’s not like the bingo I remember. The bingo cards aren’t single cards, but huge paper tablets of multiple cards. The pages are torn off and discarded after each game.

We newbies played the "small" package of just nine cards for $18. Two more packages with more cards on each sheet were available for those with trained eyes and more money to spare.

We played 35 games of nine cards each, so I had to keep an eye on nine cards for each number that was called. That was plenty to keep me busy.

There wasn’t much time to chat between games, let alone during games. More than once our tablemate-mentor noted that "You girls sure are easily distracted." I took that as a hint to stop visiting with my sister and concentrate on the game.

I soon figured out that if I waited to hear the number called, I was already on behind. The art of bingo-calling has moved into the 21st century, with high-tech ball machines and number boards, microphones and real-time video displays.

Paying close attention to both the caller and the TV monitors is imperative!

The ball machine is similar to the ones they use to choose the lottery number on television each evening. One ball at a time can come up into the slot. The bingo caller places the ball so that it shows clearly on the two TV monitors. In exactly 13 seconds, she calls out that number and places the ball on the big grid that lights up the number on the big number boards at either end of the room. The next ball immediately shows up on the TV monitor.

So, if a player waits to hear a number, she’s already behind the player who is seeing the next number.

But, a winner must wait to hear the number called before yelling, "Bingo!" Not that most players really yelled. It seemed that the winners’ neighbors groaned, murmured, tore off their sheets, and the games moved on. I’m not exactly sure how anybody knew when the game was won.

That leads me to another high-tech change: no more calling off the numbers to be sure you really have bingo. A bingo committee person comes and checks the serial number on the "free" space in the middle of the card. The caller punches that number into the computer to immediately learn whether it is a good "bingo" or not. Nice and easy.

Each regular game of bingo was worth $30 and the special configurations were worth $50 to the winner. The Speedball games, where the caller announced only numbers, not letters and numbers and the entire cards needed to be filled, were worth more. The "Full Card Consolation" at the end of the evening was worth $100.

Although most of the players were women "of a certain age," perhaps as many as a quarter of the players were men. Gardner told me about 80 to 85 players participate each week for jackpots of $600.

Attendance is higher some weeks, perhaps leading to the scarcity of open seats noted by the unhappy letter-writer. In October, 111 players competed one week for an $825 jackpot.

Annually, the Brickerville Fire Company sees over $40,000 profit from bingo, its largest fundraiser. "These proceeds get added to our general fund, which is what allows us to continue to offer fire and ambulance service to the community," Gardner said.

Gardner went on to tell me that, although other local bingo programs have been struggling recently, attendance at the Brickerville games has been steadily increasing. He attributes the growth to the "recently-remodeled building, the friendly staff, good food offered weekly by the Auxiliary, reasonable prices, and a fun game program with all-cash prizes."

"We go out of our way to celebrate special occasions, such as when people were encouraged to come in costume the week of Halloween," Gardner continued. "It is common knowledge that bingo players talk among themselves, and the word has obviously spread that Brickerville is a fun place to play bingo."

The next special event is New Year’s Eve Bingo, from 8 p.m. to midnight. This special all-inclusive evening will feature bingo, food, decorations, special beverages and a fabulous dessert buffet.

So, although neither my sister nor I won anything at Brickerville bingo last week, we did have a good time. (I think the chocolate cake with peanut butter icing helped, along with the fact that the auxiliary ladies recognized me and wouldn’t let me pay for it. Thank you, ladies!)

We didn’t win, but our tablemate-mentor did. Twice!

I’m happy that she won – a sort of reward for her kindness and good deeds.

More BINGO, page A15

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