Bingo mania

Game isn't just about prizes; 'addicts' say it's a form of entertainment

Somebody's got to win big and it might as well be you.

At least that was the thinking among 126 people who showed to play bingo last Friday night at Craig's Elks Lodge.

A progressive jackpot that carried over multiple weeks of gaming increased the winnings for one particular game to more than $5,000. Just the thought of all that money seeking one lucky participant drew three times as many players as regular crowds, Elks members said.

"The doors open at five o'clock and the people haven't stopped coming in," said the Elks Exalted Ruler Frank Sadvar shortly after 6 p.m. while deftly exchanging dollars for bingo cards.

Sadvar's role with the Elks is similar to a president's position.

"People come here to have a blast," he said. "You know, they come to win."

Indeed, the rows of tables were almost filled and an expected hush settled in along with a thick layer of cigarette smoke as the games promptly began at 7 p.m.

A regular Elks bingo night consists of more than a dozen games, a majority with winnings of $40, but prizes for some games reach $200.

According to the game layout, players must create different designs to win. In a game called "layer cake," participants must line up numbers called by the announcer in three parallel lines. Another called "thumbtack" requires a winner to be the first to connect two parallel lines with a perpendicular one down its center.

But those games were small peanuts compared to the night's true excitement -- a pot of dough that started at $4,500 at the night's beginning and grew to $5,229 just before game time midway through the night.

Progressive bingo, as it's called, raffles off all the money participants put toward it. But a bingo must be called before the announcer pulls a predetermined number of balls. For at least 15 weeks no one had won the pot, which is why its increasing bulk carried over into Friday night. But on this fateful night the winner had to call a blackout before the announcer drew the ball 59 times.

Furrowed eyebrows, drawn breath and the blur of colored markers separated the regulars from the rest. Four elk heads, one perched in each corner of the room, maintained their wide-eyed vigil.

Two players simultaneously broke the silence and the crowd exhaled a collective moan.

"It's the idea that I'm going to win, I suppose," explained Ruby Wooden, about one reason for her presence that night.

The 84-year-old didn't win thousands but she did win a game worth a couple hundred dollars.

Wooden, like a handful of others probably, wouldn't feel right playing without a "good luck" trinket. A small "lucky" bingo troll perched loyally in front of her bingo cards is a mainstay, she said.

Though the long-time bingo-playing habit has cost Wooden more money than she's won, there are other reasons to play.

"I get to do a lot of visiting," she said.

Players spend an average of $40 per bingo night, Sadvar said.

Participants must purchase a bingo packet for $15, but many players purchase more than two of these. Each packet contains about 13 opportunities to win.

Separate games, such as the progressive bingo card cost $1 each. It's not uncommon for players to buy up to about 10 individual games.

Elks' members maintain that all proceeds are donated back to the community.

Playing bingo isn't expensive when you think of it as entertainment, said Darrell Causer.

"I could spend $35 in an hour at bar and I wouldn't have anything," he said.

Causer, a self-described bingo addict, spent $42 for the night's activities.

In years of playing Causer has easily spent more money than he's won, but luck caught up with him Friday night.

"That is a good bingo. That is a good bingo," the announcer called after verifying Causer's winnings or half of the progressive jackpot.

"I'm taking the day off work tomorrow," he said, $2,614.50 richer.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by email at ahatten@craigdaliypress.com.

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