Archive for Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bingo has charms over casino gambling

Players scour over their bingo cards during a game of bingo held Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at the American Legion post, 3408 W. Sixth Street.

Players scour over their bingo cards during a game of bingo held Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at the American Legion post, 3408 W. Sixth Street.

March 18, 2012


Marian and Wayne Boedeker, of Kansas City, Kan., scan their bingo cards during a game of bingo on March 7, 2012 at the American Legion post, 3408 W. Sixth St.

Marian and Wayne Boedeker, of Kansas City, Kan., scan their bingo cards during a game of bingo on March 7, 2012 at the American Legion post, 3408 W. Sixth St.

Janet D’Ercole, Lawrence, marks her bingo card behind a row of dabbers March 7 at the American Legion.

Janet D’Ercole, Lawrence, marks her bingo card behind a row of dabbers March 7 at the American Legion.

I guess I want a nine on, with an early bird.

At least that’s what I tell the guy at the window, hoping that I haven’t just screwed up that bit of lingo — because it sure seems like the type of phrase you don’t want to screw up.

Eighteen dollars later, my new friend Jim passes me 17 sheets of paper through the window, most with nine sets of numbers — thus the nine on — and the magic “B” word plastered across the top.

That’s right. I’m at the American Legion on West Sixth Street to play some bingo. Correction. I’m here to win some bingo.

Tonight’s the night to do it because there’s the potential for two $1,000 pots, a guarantee of at least two $300 pots and a $200 winner. Everything pays at least $50, except for the early bird games that pay $40. (Oh yeah, I got the early bird.)

That’s good news because these days winning money has never been bigger business around these parts. The state of Kansas has gotten into the casino industry. New multimillion-dollar facilities have been built near Wichita, Dodge City and now in nearby western Wyandotte County.

The loosening of the state’s casino laws has made it easier than ever to test the axiom that “money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” But for decades it wasn’t so easy. If you wanted to gamble in Kansas — legally, anyway — there was basically only one way to do it.

And (apologies in advance) bingo was its name-o.

• • •

If bingo is the old-school way to gamble, the Hollywood Casino just 29 miles east of Lawrence in Wyandotte County is new school. Where American Legion banners and baseball trophies line the walls of the bingo hall, velvet ropes leading to $14 lunch buffets and waitresses equipped with black skirts and cheap drinks fill the casino.

And slot machines, wing after wing of electronic

gaming machines with names like China Shores, Voyages of Sinbad, and Super Lucky Lotus. Nostalgia was evident there too. John Wayne’s name graces one machine, and Dean Martin’s Vegas Party lights up another.

But what the … is this? Alice and the Mad Tea Party. Pink and frilly and empty. This is gambling these days? I nearly take a seat, but surely Dean Martin would rise from the dead and whack me with an empty vodka bottle.

• • •

In my little hometown, the American Legion runs bingo three nights a year for the community’s fair days. For more than 20 years I’ve been a regular player of those games — and I’ve never won a single, solitary time.

Maybe I’m a trendsetter because fewer people are winning at bingo all the time. Patsy Congrove, the state official who oversees bingo regulations for the Kansas Department of Revenue, said the level of play has declined over the years. The state collects .002 of a cent on every bingo card played in the state. In 1997, the state collected a little more than $1 million from the tax. Last year, it was about $400,000.

The pastime isn’t what it used to be in Lawrence either. Not even a decade ago you could still find a bingo game every night of the week in Lawrence. Now, it is down to the American Legion on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the Eagles Lodge on Fridays.

But Hank Sipple, finance manager for the Lawrence American Legion Post, said better days may be ahead. A 2011 change in state law began allowing for “instant bingo,” a type of game that involves elements of the lottery, bingo and even horse racing. (I’m not going to explain it further, other than to say there is a lot of bingo involved because I didn’t win at that game either.)

Sipple said that before the law change, the American Legion had gross receipts of about $240,000 a year in bingo and pull tab sales. Now he’s expecting gross revenues of about $380,000.

“It is paying quite a few bills out here,” Sipple said.

And tonight it is going to pay a few bills at this table, too. I can just feel it. It is the first game of the evening, and we’re playing some bingo game called Chevron. Your bingo has to be in a pattern that looks like an old Chevron gas station logo. Really. I couldn’t make that up if I tried. Bingo is full of such wackiness. There’s an almost endless number of patterns, and tonight we’ll play Small Diamond, Postage Stamp, Checkmark and others.

The first ball comes out and it is O 66. O, six, six. Oh yeah, one for one. Ten calls later and my card still only has a 66 marked. Too bad there’s not a game called 66.

But by game No. 5, I’ve found my bingo rhythm. The place definitely has a flow. The socializing before games comes to a grinding halt, and out come the dabbers: Big ink sticks used to mark your card when a number is called. It is not uncommon to see women or men carrying bags full of dabbers — easily holding a dozen or more dabbers of varying colors.

Across the table from me, Sunny Church has so much ink it would make a Journal-World pressman blush. She’s a children’s librarian in Wyandotte County and a widow. She plays bingo three nights a week, and she wins almost every night — even when she doesn’t win money.

“I’ve met a lot of people playing bingo,” Church says.

That’s the mantra of most bingo players. It is a chance to be social.

“We talk about each other to each other,” says bingo player Janene Rist.

But most also will admit that the money is nice, too.

Indeed it will be.

All that is left before I stand up, flip this table over, rip off my shirt a la a soccer goal celebration and yell BINGO is G-59. G, five, nine.

One ball goes by, two balls go by ... six balls in total go by. Then, then ... “BINGO” — from Sunny, right across from me. Calm and cool, she says it. Did I mention she was also a Marine Corps captain?

“He gets you there and then leaves you sitting,” is the refrain I would hear from some bingo players. But from Sunny, no words of encouragement.

“You don’t even feel bad, do you?” I ask her.

“No, I don’t,” she says.

I regroup and remember something a bingo player had told me earlier in the evening.

“Bingo is a blood sport,” says Connie Nokes from Eudora. “Didn’t you know that?”

Do now.

• • •

Here’s the experiment: I kept track of how much money and time I spent playing bingo. And now I’m at the Hollywood Casino to spend the same amount of money and see how much time it takes me to do so.

I paid $18 for my bingo cards. That allowed me to play all 17 games called at the Legion that night. The rest of the money I spent at the bingo hall was for what you could call the equivalent of Gatorade for bingo players. You must stay fueled up, and I did so with a polish sausage, nachos, a root beer, a Snickers and a piece of chocolate pie from the snack bar. I also bought two instant bingo pull tabs for $1 a piece.

In total, I spent $27 at the bingo hall. I was there for five hours. The instant bingo — and the socializing — begins at 4:30. The real bingo begins about 6:30.

At the casino’s dollar slot machine, it has taken me six minutes and 20 seconds to go through $18. I have won $9 of the $18 back, but it seems like I’ve lost something besides money.

I remember a comment Mary Benteman told me in the bingo hall. She has played bingo for 47 years, and I was trying to get someone to explain why such an arcane game exists in such a high-tech world.

“It is the anticipation,” she said. “Waiting for that next number to be called. At my age, that is something to enjoy.”

With a slot machine it is different. Every push of the button can bring financial reward, but there is so little time for hope with a slot machine. On one spin, I was a single “7” away from winning $40. But I didn’t realize that until the game was already over.

With bingo, there’s plenty of time to wait and wonder. And mutter.

G-59. G, five, nine.

Fourteen-year-old Allison Lane marks her bingo card during a March 7 game at the American Legion post on West Sixth Street. “I don’t care if my friends call me a dork,” said Allison, a Liberty Memorial Central Middle School student. “At least I’m not wasting my time getting in trouble, and I’m with my family doing something decent.”

Fourteen-year-old Allison Lane marks her bingo card during a March 7 game at the American Legion post on West Sixth Street. “I don’t care if my friends call me a dork,” said Allison, a Liberty Memorial Central Middle School student. “At least I’m not wasting my time getting in trouble, and I’m with my family doing something decent.”

• • •

We’re now playing the bingo game Six Pack Anywhere. A six pack at my table would be better. Bingo is one activity where practice doesn’t help. I’ve gotten worse as the night has worn on. My dabber has the brand name Dabbin’ Fever. My dabber doesn’t even have a pulse, let alone a fever.

In just a few short hours, the game has become for me what it becomes to most people who play it — more about the people than the numbers.

There’s a girl in the far corner who has a streak of green that runs through her hair. She’s 14 years old and has come here most every week for the last four years with her grandmother. She’s given me the best strategy of the evening: “Don’t fall asleep and try not to text too much.”

“I don’t care if my friends call me a dork,” says Allison Lane, a Liberty Memorial Central Middle School student. “At least I’m not wasting my time getting in trouble, and I’m with my family doing something decent.”

Bingo made a winner of one grandma tonight.

The snack bar attendant closes up shop a little before 9:30 and starts to head out the door. Everyone breaks the bingo code of silence and shouts out “Goodnight, Vickie!”

Ultimately, it is about time for all of us to say good night. The last game of the evening is a blackout game. You can win $1,000 if you fill your card before 58 calls are made. Otherwise, the prize drops to $300, and you have to wait another week to win the really big money.

My fate was sealed long before the 57th ball arrived. It appeared the $1,000 wasn’t in anyone’s future tonight. But then bingo became bingo again and turned anticipation into adrenaline.

Marian Boedeker, of Kansas City, Kan., hit the $1,000 bingo on the last possible call. She had waited and wondered for three calls before her number came up. She yelled “BINGO!” and somehow did not flip the table over.

“I guess I’m going to have to pay for the turnpike toll on the way home,” she said.

• • •

Back at the casino, it was as bad as I thought it would be. The pink, frilly machine uses some type of electronic megaphone to say, “Glad you could join the tea party,” as I stick my dollar into its slot.

I have $9 left to spend as part of my experiment. I’ve switched to a penny slot machine. Yes, that machine. At about the four-minute mark of my play, the jolly voice comes back and tells me I’ve won something called a “super mad re-spin.” Then it tells me to pick a teapot. I had to do that four times. It was something like a shopping trip to Dillard’s.

But after the fourth teapot, a little bell rings and I have $44.46. I swear, I have no idea how. There were several icons on the screen that said “Alice,” but they weren’t in a row. There also was cake that said “eat me,” a fellow in a purple top hat with a tea cup, and a bunny rabbit with a bugle.

I wish I knew which one to thank, although I’ve decided I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for bunnies with bugles.

There’s only one possible explanation: The gambling gods had fallen asleep. I never win, not even $44.46. But then they woke up. I try to cash out, and the printer on the slot machine is jammed. At the office, I’d just pound on it, but that doesn’t seem to work here.

But after about 20 minutes and two technicians, I get my receipt that entitles me to $44.46. Add the $9 I won on the other machine, and I walk away with $53.46. I spent about 12 minutes playing the games.

It was fun. But I can’t help but think that G-59 would have been even better.

Stinking G, five, nine.


tsmjcc 6 years, 1 month ago

hey,alli does not look like your winning smile we all see ya:):):)

Jan Rolls 6 years, 1 month ago

For a long time the hypocrites against casinos didn't consider bingo and lottery gambling. They still don't

pace 6 years, 1 month ago

The word hypocrite is getting lost. if someone isn't a pure monk, disagrees with someone, if someone see's an issue in tones of grey instead of black and white. Then some pouting hysterical calls out "hypocrite" . Maybe some people think bingo is not as bad as casinos. So what. The radical far right seems to scream the word if someone doesn't follow a perceived party line. It is a word fast losing any real meaning, just a magic sticker to use instead of reasoned argument.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

1) In 1966, when I was just about to turn 11, my family and I had an unbelievable vacation. We made a fantastic road trip to Colorado, Salt Lake City, Utah, Grants Pass, Oregon, and then I saw the ocean for the very first time when we came to the top of a big mountain east of Crescent City, California. After that, we went to San Francisco and Los Angeles. And of course we had to see Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. All of that was fabulous, and I remember all of it so very well.

But then came the part of the trip that I could have done without, but it did have its moments.

We went to Las Vegas, Nevada, and stayed at The Dunes, which I thought was wonderful because of its swimming pool. It was huge! But that wasn't the only one they had, there was a bigger one too, but I didn't see it. I really loved The Dunes.

I was crushed when The Dunes was demolished by being collapsed with dynamite charges that were accompanied with fireworks on live television. After that, there was never any reason for me to go to Las Vegas again, since The Dunes was the only thing I wanted to see again, and I had sure hoped that I could do that again someday. Oh well, all good things come to an end, I guess, but I sure hated that they did it on live television accompanied with fireworks besides.

Other than The Dunes, I only remember one thing of significance about Las Vegas. We were eating at a restaurant, and there were a couple slot machines there. Of course my younger brother and I wanted to play the slots, we had heard about them before, and we weren't old enough to do it. Like many other things, when you're not old enough to do something you want to do it so badly, and then when you do get old enough to do it you wonder why it was such a big deal, and instead you would rather be young again.

We begged for the chance to play the slots, just once, with our allowance money. Our parents told us we could do it, but just one time each, and that was it.

So we both put a dime into a slot machine, pulled the lever, watched the spinning wheels, and waited for something exciting to happen.

The spinning wheels stopped, and nothing happened.

We both lost, and our money was gone.

After we left Las Vegas, I was sitting in the back seat of the car thinking about what I had done. I had put in my money, pulled the lever, and I got nothing for it at all.

I looked out at the desert, and started to wonder about something. Why hadn't I saved my dime for now, and then I could roll down the car window, and just throw my dime out the window? The result would be the same, I would surely get the same result. I had just thrown my dime away.

I have never forgotten the moment that I realized that I may as well have thrown my dime out the window, and I have never played a slot machine again, since 1966.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

2) Since then, I have made many road trips across Nevada on my way to California and back. I'm not sure how many, but over a dozen times. It's a big state, and so I needed to stop to rest and walk around some quite a few times while crossing that state.

I made a hobby out of visiting the casinos. What I did was walk around and look at everyone playing the slots, that is, they put a coin into the machine, pulled a lever, and then earnestly watched the spinning wheels until they stopped. Then, with a grim determination, they would put in another coin, pull the lever again, and then earnestly watch the spinning symbols again. It was always the same, it never seemed to end, and there was nothing new to see.

In recent years, the mechanical machines have been replaced with electronic ones, but the basics are still the same.

What I was actually doing was looking for something, and I was never successful at it, never, not once, in all those stops on my trips across Nevada.

What I was looking for was just one single person playing the slots that showed just the faintest bit of a look of happiness or joy while throwing money away. But I never saw a single one, and by now I have carefully examined thousands of people throwing away their money.

Of course it helps that I can now look for a person that is somehow deriving some kind of happiness from playing the slots right here in Kansas now, but to tell the truth, I'm rather bored with that hobby.

It's just too depressing to have looked at thousands of people that are obviously not happy at all.

The strange thing is that I'm sure that at least some of them claim that they go to the casinos "to have a good time."

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 1 month ago

There is a somewhat strange aspect to all that though. I've played Bingo only a few times in my life, and the last time I played I won three prizes, and no one else out of a crowd of dozens won even two.

And there was another interesting event. Only once in my life, I played "Texas Hold 'em'. I didn't understand the rules at all, they're rather complex. So I just looked at my cards and sort of guessed what I should do, but a few times I did ask for advice.

I was playing against two experienced players, and one of the other players "sort of" knew some of the rules. Someone had donated a pile of pennies which we pretended were dollars, and that's what we played with.

When it was all over and done with, if we had been playing with real money, I would have been a very, very wealthy man, because I totally wiped out everyone else, even the experienced players, by just guessing what to do.

But it didn't surprise me a bit. So many times in my life, I've just "sort of had a feeling" about what I should do.

Such as, make an emergency phone call one afternoon from Lawrence, Kansas to Johnson City, Tennessee to tell a friend that the two month old light bulb in the security light in her mother's back yard was burned out, and needed to be replaced.

Of course, I was right, the bulb was burned out. That's just one example, I could write a book.

Maybe I should do that.

asixbury 6 years, 1 month ago

I enjoy your stories, Ron. Write your book and I will buy it.

wtgbingosites 6 years, 1 month ago

Amazing review Ron. Really made me understand more. Stil I think its amazing to see the elderies enjoying a game of bingo with such simplicity without all the words around it. Thank and also if I can I would recommend reading more on bingo projects here-

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