Failing at Bingo


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When I was a child, Bingo was not legal. Fraternal organizations and church groups would covertly host Bingo games as fund raisers.

Every now and then, an article would hit the papers about a raid on a Bingo game, complete with photos of priests in their Roman collars being detained and prim ladies in Saturday dress-up, looking stunned. The accompanying article – and the dinner time conversation in my house – leaned strongly toward the attitude of “don’t they  (meaning the vice squad, I guess) have anything better to do with their time?” They’d back that up with stories of a robbery or murder (“a real crime!”) that happened just around the corner, while the police were busy finger-printing good church-going people.

Mostly, when it came to Bingo, I think law enforcement personnel just tried to look the other way.

When Bingo was illegal, there were no laws dictating how old you had to be before you could play. When we were on Beaver Island for summer vacation, my Grandma Florence would regularly take us to Bingo at the Holy Cross Hall.

Back home in Lapeer, the Fraternal Order of Eagles held a big Bingo game every fall. The prizes were donated from local markets. Dad was a member of the Eagles, and happy to support them. He’d take any of us kids that were old enough to read numbers, and set us up with one Bingo card each. He’d stand behind us, beer in hand, chatting with his buddies while keeping an eye on our cards. “You missed one there,” he’d say, or, “Get ready to yell Bingo!” One year, with one card only, I Bingo-ed three times, winning a turkey each time. Dad was grinning ear to ear when he told Mom I’d “filled the freezer.”

When Bingo became a legal game, it gained several new rules and regulations to go with it. There were specifications on record-keeping, admissions, payouts, and manner of dispersing winnings. When Bingo became legal, children were no longer allowed to play.

When I was a young pregnant woman with very little disposable income, my husband and I always “splurged” on Saturday night Bingo. It was a cheap night out, with the possibility of a payoff. The poorer we were, the more it seemed we had to go, for the chance to win big.

After my daughter was born, Bingo was no longer cheap: the cost of child care had to be factored in. It became a rare excursion: eight or ten times a year instead of weekly. Around that same time, I quit winning…completely.

Now, I enjoy gambling in many forms. I like euchre better if there’s a “dime a game, nickel a set” rule in place, just to make it interesting. Cribbage is always “penny a point, double on skunk.” I don’t play high stakes poker, but “penny ante, three cent limit” is fun. I don’t have to win. I’m okay if I don’t  break even. However, if I never, ever, ever win – even a fraction of my investment, just to give me hope – it quits being fun. That’s what happened with me and Bingo. So, I quit going.

My point is, though, that I have a long history with the game. I thought I knew how to play. I was confident of it.

Last Wednesday, my nephew Bob was working Bingo at the V.F.W. in North Branch. Bob’s Mom, Cheryl, invited her sisters to go. Brenda, Amy and I took her up on it.

We were all lucky. That wasn’t an issue.

The problem was with the technicalities.

When I called “Bingo,” I hadn’t raised my hand ahead of the call, when the number showed on the TV screen. I didn’t yell loud enough. I was so late it yelling it out, he was calling the next number at the same time. There was a little bit of grumbling from the professional players around the room, and a little lecture from the caller at the podium, but they paid me my $10.00 and we moved on.

Brenda was next. She didn’t call out loud enough. She didn’t keep her had in the air.

More grumbling from the crowd. Another lecture from the caller.

I wondered if Bob was less than thrilled at his row of aunts, all causing so much trouble.

Amy – looking pretty much like a professional player herself, with her own pink Bingo chips and magnetic pick-up wand – had to split her winnings with one or two others who Bingo-ed at the same time. She was coming close enough on many of the specials to make us all hold our breath.

Cheryl won next, without major incident.

Things were improving. I had learned to watch the screens for the numbers, rather than just wait for them to be called out. I was getting faster at placing the chips on the cards, and clearing them before the next game. The professional player sitting at the next table was helpful in explaining some of the intricacies of the game: what a “roving T” was, why we could ignore any “N”s called when going for “the letter X” and the same for “B”s and “O”s when trying for the little “around the free.” At intermission, I even had a friendly exchange with the grouchy caller, who was then working the concession stand. I said, “I’d like two hot dogs, please.” He said, “We only have polish dogs left.” I said “Okay.”

It was looking like we might get through the evening without humiliating ourselves further.

Then Brenda got another Bingo.

She nudged me and pointed it out. I didn’t realize the last number – though it was showing on the TV screen – had not yet been called.

What was she doing, trying to get us in trouble??

I grabbed Brenda’s arm and flung it into the air. “BINGO,” I yelled, loud enough for everyone to hear! So there would be no confusion this time, I jumped up out of my seat, and pointed at her!

Brenda tried to get her arm down. I held it up. The caller stopped calling. The guy checking the cards rushed over to check her card.

Her number had not yet been called.


I sat back down.

I let Brenda put her arm down.

We all paused, then, waiting for him to call the number. We had it down now; we had just rehearsed it.

The caller gave me a long scowl first.

He called the number.

Brenda called “Bingo!”

The checker called out her numbers.

It was a good Bingo.


So, I don’t know…I may not be up on all the new technological advances in the game of Bingo; I may be a little slow on marking the cards, a little confused by all the new acceptable patterns and a bit over-enthusiastic when it comes to a win…but the Ricksgers sisters walked away from the table with combined winnings of seventy-one dollars and seventy-five cents. Can it really be said that we’re not good at Bingo?




8 responses »

  1. Cindy, this is delightful–just what I needed to give me good dreams tonight! If I’m ever in a Bingo hall and I see the Ricksgers Sisters walk in, I’ll just hand in my cards and watch!

    • Thanks, Kate! I’m glad I’ve gotten to the stage in my life where I’m not humiliated…mortified…or even embarrassed by my own behavior or lack of knowledge. Especially in November, when I always need material to write about! Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

  2. Coming from the other side of the Atlantic, I find is bizarre that bingo was once illegal in the US. Those church halls were hardly dens of iniquity, were they? Like you though I find modern bingo a bit of a mystery. And if it makes you feel any better, I never win anything, the exception being a very small Christmas pudding in a bran tub lucky-dip when I was about 10, an occasion so rare it still lives in my memory. 🙂

    • Yes, it seems we are slow to accept the vices…maybe until our government is assured they have figured out how to get their share of the profits! Thanks for reading, Linda, and for your comments!

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