Bingo Halls Turn to Technology to Survive

It’s no secret that bingo games have been in decline for the past decade. A combination of smoking bans and a poor economy have forced many bingo halls to close. The decline has been disastrous for many charity bingo games and many fraternal organizations and charities say the expense of running bingo games can no longer be justified because of the sharp drop in revenues. Bingo is in decline throughout the United States and Canada. In Ontario Canada revenues from bingo games dropped from $250 million a year to about $50 million. The Ontario Charitable Gaming Association said that 10 years ago 6,000 charities relied on bingo for their funding. Today that figure has declined to 3,000.

Bingo has never been the most popular game among gamblers. In 2002 Statistics Canada reported that bingo was played by 8% of all gamblers, well behind most forms of gambling. Bingo players have a reputation for being loyal to their favorite game. 21% of all bingo players say they play at least once a week. Not surprisingly women outnumber men by two to one at bingo games. Elizabeth Goldfield has been playing bingo for decades. She uses old fashioned cards and a dauber to mark them. Goldfield stated “I come four times a week, I bring all my money over here. It’s something to do. I’m old, what else have I got to do? I only won once, a thousand dollars.” Goldfield usually plays with her 81 year old brother Maurice Cohn and are part of a dying breed of bingo players.

Lynn Cassidy, the executive director of the Ontario Charitable Gaming Association, said that bingo needs to be modernized to survive. Ten years ago there were 200 bingo halls in Ontario and today there are only 70 left. Bingo faces competition from other forms of gambling and online bingo. In Ontario bingo halls are going electronic and are taking advantage of the latest bingo technology. At several Ontario bingo halls players have a choice between playing the old fashioned way or playing on a computer. Tom Aikins, the manager at the Boardwalk Gaming Centre, described the advantages of electronic bingo and told reporters “With electronics you can run outside or go to the washroom and come back in two or three minutes and with one touch of a button you can catch up on all your cards so you don’t miss a bingo.”

Five years ago electronic bingo began as a pilot project and today the bingo industry is moving full steam ahead to modernize bingo halls across Canada. Not everyone wants to make the switch. Maurice Cohn prefers to play the old fashioned way. Cohn stated “I don’t like the electronic — too boring. You just sit there and watch nothing else to do. It takes the fun out of it.” Lynn Cassidy of the Ontario Charitable Gaming Association says bingo is in serious decline and needs all the help it can get. Cassidy stated “The reality is … the industry is declining roughly at about 10 per cent a year. We’re hoping we can get some direction prior to another election because then you have to start again even if it is the same government.”

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