Wednesday, September 25, 2013


When we moved to here, we had a choice that we never had before. In this town, there is a small Catholic private school that our daughter could attend through Grade 5 instead of the public school. Normally I wouldn't be too concerned about it but in this town, there is a huge part of the population who don't speak English as a first language. As a result of that and Bush's no child left behind policies, entire classes of kids get bogged down by these non-native English speaking kids who though trying their best, just have more on their plate than others and slow everyone down. As a result, the public school is not ranked very well among schools in the state. On the other hand, the small private school is among the top ranked schools in the state. Because of this, we made the commitment to send our daughter to the private school.

Fortunately, the private school doesn't charge a steep price to attend but their are consequences to that too. As a parent, we have to spend so much time during the school year doing fund raising to keep the school finances in the black and that includes working the local bingo parlor which gives the proceeds to the school. So a couple weeks ago, my first of four appearances to work the bingo games arrived.

I was told that I was to show up at five. Assuming that the games started then and not knowing much about running a bingo parlor, I showed up twenty minutes early. There were thirty people already inside and more milling around outside so I thought my suspicions were confirmed. I started asking questions to the man in charge of us volunteers but he seemed in no big hurry to teach us much. Finally after about a half hour, I asked him directly what time the game started and he told me 6:20. I guess I had showed up over an hour and a half early!

Only two of the four people scheduled showed up but we ended up doing alright. They taught us how to sell the cards which had a lot of jargon used by the buyers that we had to learn. They taught us how to run the bingo machine which had cameras, a bank of switches, timers, knobs and levers and a certain way of doing things. My biggest fear was really messing up and having to redo a game and I'm glad to say that didn't happen.

What surprised me most of the whole ordeal was the seriousness of the players. They came in with bags of supplies like someone might expect say a professional golfer to have before a tournament. They had beverages, glue sticks for adhering multiple sheets together, handfuls of daubers, pens and paper for writing down information, wipes for clearing a miss marked sheet, etc. Many had superstitions that they adhered too. One lady matched the color of dauber she used to the bingo sheets color which varied depending on the game. Another lady needed a bingo sheet with an odd number for her left hand and an even number for the right hand. One fellow had to have Cheetos before the jackpot game and was all bent out of shape when there were no Cheetos to be had. He ended up getting a bag of Doritos and as it turned out, he didn't win the game.

Although they were briefed that we were brand new to bingo, they didn't cut us any slack. If you didn't get the next ball to be called faced right into the camera to be displayed on the overhead televisions so they could get a head start marking their cards before you actually called the number, they let you know. If you weren't fast enough hustling over to their table to get them a new dauber, they let you know. One old fellow who couldn't walk very fast didn't quite make it back to his card during a bathroom break and another fellow hollered at us when we waited for him for an extra 15 seconds to get seated before starting the game. After the final game, there was a lot of loud sighs and throwing of wadded bingo sheets onto the table by many of the losing players as they made their way out the door. The entire time I was there I felt the pressures of doing the right thing like a NFL ref must during the Superbowl.

The demographics of the bingo players was one of the things that didn't surprise me. They seemed similar to those who frequent casinos. Most of the players were the old looking for a night out of their house and the balance mostly consisted of people who I would consider the down and out on their luck. There wasn't a single person that I would probably classify as a middle class working stiff. I'm not sure what that says about things. The average cost for a night of bingo if you were to play all the games was about $36 with the lowest price being $15 and the highest price $72. The pot for each winner was $41 and was based on the number of people present and the amount of money taken in. About half the winners had to split the pot with other winners. There were only 19 games played and about 70 people playing so your chances of getting your money back were pretty poor. Only one person who won the jackpot game of $400 came out ahead and the jackpot game is only won about once a month or so.

So I have at least three more times left to work bingo over the school year. I won't be as nervous the next time around and I most definitely won't get their at 4:40 anymore. I will make sure there are a bag of Cheetos left for the man who needs them to win the jackpot round and despite the complaints, I will still probably wait the 15 extra seconds for the old man to get back to his card after a bathroom break.


Bone said...

Uncovering the bingo night subculture in America, by Ed Abbey.

I like it.

Also, now I'm kinda craving some Cheetos.

warren said...

I remember the bingo hall of my youth as a miserable place...full of smoke and drunks and people yelling...sorry you have to work it

Ed said...

Bone - It certainly was eye opening.

Warren - Fortunately up here, it was a smoke free event and they didn't serve alcohol. Had they done both, I would have called in sick!

Anonymous said...

Bingo was the source of choice for fundraising when I was a kid. Everything from church plastering to kit for 14yo teams. That and whist.

Ed said...

Vince - For Catholics here in the US, it still is a major fundraiser too.

sage said...

Wow, this sounds like a Satrie-like story of hell!