Bingo’s 3 Sacred Truths
Don’t get me wrong, I love fall and just about everything that comes with it: crisp air, football, and holidays devoted to eating, but inevitably packaged together with the fingerless gloves and apple cider is the unfortunate yoke of responsibility. Kids begrudgingly go back to school, and the working world is forced to shed the hippy-dippy air of summer, forego half-day Fridays, and place their noses squarely back on the grindstone. That’s why, even though I appreciate not having to pack an extra shirt in case I sweat through the first one, I’ll remember my summer fondly. And while there aren’t many places with more shirt-sweating-through-potential than Oklahoma, one of my fondest memories of the season was had during my pilgrimage to the panhandle state, surprisingly, in a bingo parlor.
If you’re anything like me, your mental image of bingo consists of old ladies in a church basement placing tiddly winks over numbered squares in the hopes of winning a pineapple upside down cake or a scalloped potato casserole. So just in case you find yourself with money to burn in one of the 48 states where bingo is legal, here are some facts you need to know:
1. Bingo is gambling.
There was no cake changing hands. Make no mistake; bingo is played for cold, hard cash. That was immediately apparent when we walked in and found rows and rows of people with their dollars out on the tables, staring up intently in the hopes they’d see their necessary bingo balls projected on the many LCD’s that adorned the walls of the parlor. On the night we played, most games paid out $125 to the winner, but when the last game of the night rolled around, one lucky bingoer cashed in to the tune of 2,500 smackers.
You might be wondering how a racket like this is legal in states where gambling is otherwise illegal. Researching bingo legality is a murky task, because the laws governing the game are decided on a state by state basis, but the main fact to know is that nearly all bingo halls are operated for or by charitable organizations that fund various non-profit groups. So at the very least, you can combat the crushing guilt associated with gambling away your hard earned dollars with the knowledge that your addiction is helping a good cause.
2. Bingo is a total scam.
Like any other form of gambling, bingo is designed to separate the players from their money. Although not nearly as insidious as your typical one-armed bandit, the bingo hall is still angling to maximize its exposure to the inside of your wallet.
To cash in on that night’s special, we were required to purchase our “session packs” before 7:00. But when did the session start? 8:30. That meant we had an hour and a half to kill in our seats while “mini games” were going on all around us. To get in on the action, you simply had to raise a dollar in the air, and a staff member would exchange it for a shiny new bingo card. That’s the true danger of the bingo hall: a crisp, twenty-dollar bill effortlessly becomes a stack of ones, and that stack of ones quickly becomes a bare spot on the table where your money used to be.
Just because the session starts, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods either. As a reasonable person might expect, a session includes a few intermissions so the players have time to purchase various, artery-clogging and blood sugar-raising delectables from the kitchen. That is, of course, if you can resist the temptation to purchase the “intermission pack” or numerous other games that are played during the session that are not included in the original price. Once again, a dollar in the air was all it took to avoid the very real possibility of missing out on bingo glory. I saw a lot of skyward bills that night, and just about every patron remained glued to their seats, paying for the extra cards, playing out every game, and regretting their decision to order the 44-ounce tub of Mountain Dew.
3. Bingo is super fun.
Although the clientele was mostly comprised of elderly, overweight women smoking Newports while simultaneously eating deep fried onion rings and daubing out their bingo cards, the rest of the crowd seemed to come from just about all walks of life. That’s probably because bingo is a complete blast. At first, it’s easy to be intimidated by all the different games, the pace at which the numbers are called, and the old lady one row over that’s giving you the stink eye through a menacing haze of cigarette smoke. But after you overcome your fears, daub a few cards, and settle in, bingo’s got you by the balls.
It’s funny how invested your body and brain become in a simple game when there’s money on the line. When you realize your card is hinging on a single bingo ball, your heart pounds and the room seems to compress while you strain to telekinetically bring your number up out of the hopper. Those final moments of a game are equal parts elation and dread. On one hand, your victory is so close, you can almost see the cash being counted out into your greedy paw. You knew all along that the bingo gods favored you, and your triumph was inevitable. On the other hand, you cringe when each subsequent number is announced, your brain telling you that statistically you’re not going to win, and you were stupid to ever think you would. The mood in the room changes perceptibly when a bingo is at hand, and somehow everyone senses when that a-hole three rows over is poised to blurt it out.
We walked out of the building that night with our bellies full of fried okra, our skin smoke-cured like beef jerky, and a couple hundred extra bucks in our pockets. While that’s obviously not the typical outcome (the cash, anyway), we would have been only slightly less happy walking out empty-handed. When you add it all up, we were treated to nearly four hours of bone crunching bingo action, and because we showed a little self-restraint, the cost per head was only about twenty-five bones. That’s likely cheaper than most dinner dates or nights at the bar, and at the bingo hall you might even leave with your wallet a little heavier for your troubles. So if you’re driving down just about any interstate on the outskirts of just about any town, and Andrew Jackson is burning a hole in your pocket, get out your daubers, buy a roll of Tums, steel yourself against the scorn of old women, and get ready to bingo.
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