Wanted: A Few Good Bingo Players
At McConnellsburg, bingo is played every Monday and Friday nights and, according to bingo callers David Hoover II and Mont Chamberlain, at one time, a good night brought in 50 or more players. Now the company is more likely to draw 30 players at most, with 40-45 on a good night.
Decreased revenues in Needmore Volunteer Fire Co. led it to decrease the number of games. According to company President
Wavy Kirk, bingo is now held at NVFC on the first and third Wednesdays of each month only. She said over the years, Needmore’s bingo crowd has fallen off from 30-40 each night to 20-25.
At Hustontown Area Volunteer Fire Co., bingo has been discontinued completely due to lack of revenue. “We were losing money on it so we stopped about three years ago,” according to company member Shirley Tice.
All three companies blame a failing economy on bingo’s decline. “People just don’t have the money to do it,” Tice said. “It can cost people $40 to $50 up front and if you don’t win, then you’ve lost money you maybe didn’t have to spend.”
At McConnellsburg, Hoover and Chamberlain say that the economy has a lot to do with it, but they also say that many of their players were elderly people who have passed away or are unable to come out and play bingo anymore. Chamberlain said, “The recession has hurt us, people are using all their money to pay bills. But we also know that other bingos that have a larger area to draw from are able to have larger payouts and some players have left for those larger payouts.” “But,” Hoover added, “Bingo pays our bills.”
Chamberlain said the company has stuck with playing two nights a week because many of the players attend both nights.
Bingo is a game of chance that began in the United States in 1929 near Atlanta, Ga. It was then called “beano” and was played with dried beans, a rubber stamp and cardboard sheets. It eventually became popular in New York and, according to published reports, was renamed bingo when one of the players mistakenly yelled out “bingo” instead of “beano.” By the 1940s, the game’s popularity had spread across the United States.
According to history, the game of bingo can be traced back to a lottery game called “Il Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia” played in Italy c.1530. By the 18th century, the game had matured, and in France, playing cards, tokens, the reading out of numbers had been added to the game. In the 19th century, bingo was widely used in Germany for educational purposes to teach children spelling, animal names and multiplication tables.
Bingo, along with the tip jars sold during the games, has traditionally been used by charitable organizations as a way to produce revenue for their causes. When revenues are down, the charities have to try to make up for the lost revenues. According to Chamberlain, bingo makes up at least 15 to 20 percent of the McConnellsburg company’s revenues.
Bingo began at MVFC in the fall of 1988 with Chamberlain as the chairman and David Hoover and Don and Peg Kerlin as the committee. However, long before bingo was played at the firehall, many can remember the game being played outside at the fireman’s carnivals. Bingo games were also, at one time, played every Friday night at the local Catholic church. So what was once a routine staple of country life is now in danger of becoming extinct.
This past Monday night at the McConnellsburg firehall, Mont Chamberlain was calling numbers to a crowd of approximately 41, all spread out at different tables in the firehall’s social room. Some were elderly, some middle-aged and a few young people were also in attendance. The room was mostly quiet except for the humming noise made by the machine that mixes the bingo balls. Everyone uses a “dauber” now to mark 18 or more bingo cards in front of them. The cards are numbered so that when someone yells “bingo,” they only have to call out the one number and it matches with the machine to verify the bingo.
Tip jars were being sold, and the junior firemen were manning the kitchen to offer drinks, sandwiches and fries to players.
Between Chamberlain and Hoover, they mixed up the evening going from regular games to “balls or no balls” and “quickies.” Each regular game pays $40 while special games pay out $40. Jackpots are also available.
Chamberlain pointed out that you don’t have to have gambling fever to play. “People should think of it as entertainment and should come first because they like to play bingo, second to socialize and have an evening out not watching TV. I hope people can think of it as an evening of playing bingo is comparable to the cost of a trip to Chambersburg or Hagerstown with the price of gas, food and entertainment. And,” he added, “it is also a way to donate to a worthy cause and get something back – the last reason to play should be to gain from winning a lot of money, although hitting the jackpot is a plus.”
For those suffering from cabin fever after a long, icy winter, McConnellsburg Volunteer Fire Co. offers bingo on Monday and Friday nights beginning at 6 p.m. and ending around 9:30 p.m. Basket bingo is held the first Sunday of each month and draws 60 to 100 players.
The Needmore Fire Co. plays the first and third Wednesday of each month from 6:45-9:45 p.m. Kirk said Cash Bonanza Bingo will be played this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the firehall. “If I get 70 players, I will offer $100 for each regular game as well as jackpots,” she said.