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Bingo: Still in Style

September 28, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

When the Morris J. Edwards American Legion Post 168 in St. Johnsville announced it was in dire need of bingo players, the community responded.

The post has had bingo available for 40 years, but attendance recently declined, said post Cmdr. Alan Littrell.

"The income from bingo has dropped to the point where the post can no longer afford to conduct its weekly bingo," Littrell said. "The post is asking for help in attracting new players."

Article Photos

(The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen)

Mary Priolo, left, marks her bingo cards Thursday at the St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church bingo hall in Gloversville.

Similar declines have been reported by other organizations that run bingo games. Some have discontinued the games and some have reformatted their presentations.

Many groups, however, continue to offer the game to raise money and give people a chance to socialize.

Littrell said publicizing bingo has helped. Recently, only 16 players were attending. The number is now "in the mid-20s." The games at the post are every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

The proceeds from the games go toward scholarships, scouting and families of veterans who have died.

"We are a community organization and want to serve the community as best we can," Littrell said.

Mount Carmel bingo

Bingo is back at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish Hall in Amsterdam.

The program had been in hiatus after an unsuccessful move from Saturday to Thursday nights.

Al Mancini said the bingo games restarted Sept 13 at 7 p.m.

"We had bingo games here for many years when we had an active elementary school," Mancini said. "School parents volunteered and we had a sizable income."

Mancini said although the school closed, bingo continued with success to benefit parish needs. About a year ago, a decision was made to change from Saturday nights to Thursdays.

"It was a disaster," Mancini said. "But we decided to give it another shot and see if we could recover players."

Mancini said the effort has been successful, with 140 players Sept. 13.

Local bingo offers good, inexpensive entertainment, he said.

The combination of regular bingo games, two 50/50 raffles and bell-jar games results in a total of $1,850 in prizes, with the final bingo game of the evening yielding $1,000, he said.

At St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Gloversville, bingo organizer Ron Zimmerman said the game serves social and fundraising functions.

He said while some bingo programs have declined or ceased, the game at Mount Carmel has remained steady.

Final games on Thursdays have a $500 prize, and on Saturday, an $800 prize.

He said people look forward to the "big money games" at the end of the evening, and experienced players may play as many as 27 cards at once. Each card costs a dollar to play.

Zimmerman said proceeds from bingo make up about 25 percent to 30 percent of the church's revenue.

"So you can see, it's pretty important to us," Zimmerman said.

"We're a survivor," Zimmerman said. "It has stayed pretty steady here."

He said there was a time some years ago when a person could play bingo every night in Gloversville at a variety of locations. Casinos have contributed to the local decline in attendance.

Richard Thompson has been volunteering at bingo since 1967. He said before casinos became popular, 200 people might show up on bingo night. That number is at 120 to 130 today.

Games at Mount Carmel Church in Gloversville first helped fund the school there and now go to parish causes. Two or three times a year, special bingo nights are conducted, with proceeds going to causes like Mountain Valley Hospice or the Gloversville Public Library.

"It's local, convenient and cheap entertainment," Zimmerman said. "It is also important as a fundraiser."

Profitable activity

Joe Mahoney, a spokesman for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, said bell-jar games are the highest revenue producer for nonprofits, at $263.5 million in 2007. Bingo brought in $79.2 million in 2007, down from $85.7 million in 2006, he said.

American Legion halls brought in $90 million from combined games of chance in 2007. Veterans of Foreign Wars brought in $48 million. Catholic churches made $8.7 million.

Zimmerman said even if the bingo games didn't bring in money, his church would continue offering them because of their social aspect.

The bingo games vary through the evening with different winning patterns to keep the games interesting. An electronic board shows numbers called with TV monitors spread around the basement hall so people in any part of the room can easily see the board numbers as they are pulled.

The Providence Volunteer Fire Department had bingo at the Fish House station recently. According to firefighter Inez Houston, bingo is an opportunity for community awareness.

"We do it three times a year to open the firehouse up to the public and bring in more volunteers," Houston said.

She said state laws regarding games of chance for nonprofit organizations are specific, and as long as the games are free and open to the public, no special licenses are needed.

When used as a fundraiser, licensing is required.

Thompson of St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Gloversville showed state licenses that had to be visible during games and cost $243 for each three months of play.

He said even if the games are canceled due to weather or other reasons, the state licensing has to be paid.

Mary Priolo of Gloversville said she helped organize the bingo games at St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Gloversville when they started. Now she goes for fun as a player.

"Now I just go to relax and meet people," she said. "It's mostly for seniors and very enjoyable."



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