Is Bingo Dying? Charities Face Pressures From Expanded Gaming Operations

A newspaper in Nebraska asked; is bingo dying? The article described the decline of charitable bingo which has been used as a fundraising tool by churches and charities since the 1930’s when a Catholic priest asked modern bingo game Edwin S. Lowe inventor to create bingo cards with non repeating numbers. Since then bingo has been a staple at Catholic and Orthodox churches in the United States and Canada. In Nebraska churches and community organizations have described a decade long slide in attendance at bingo games. While other forms of wagering have increased charity free bingo games have declined.

At VFW Post 1347 in Grand Island Nebraska player Karla Smith is a regular and is a serious bingo player. Smith told reporters “I like it here. The pay is good. I go other places that don’t pay as good, but that don’t bother me. Just have some entertainment.” Smith usually plays multiple cards and when asked how often she wins said “It’s probably about 50-50. They owe me a lot. But I have fun anyway.” Although bingo may be gambling for most players it is a chance to visit with friends and have a good time. Bingo is also an important source of revenue for several charities in the state. Unfortunately the VFW post is seeing a decline in game attendance. The number of players and the amount they wager have seriously declined.

In 2011 one of Nebraska’s largest bingo games closed. Holy Name parish in Omaha started hosting bingo games in the 1950’s. After years of shrinking revenues the parish no longer earned enough money to keep the games running. During the parish’s best bingo years the games earned about $250,000 annually. Over at the VFW post Kenny Brandt who organized the games and also served as a caller remembers when the games at the post filled two community rooms and attracted over 300 players on big jackpot nights. Brandt stated “It’s been declining in the last 10 years.” He also said the number of players has decreased and told reporters “Thursday nights, if you get 100, you’re doing good, and Sunday’s 130, 140.”

In several states charity bingo games have suffered the same fate and for the same reasons. Expanded casino gaming has put pressure on charity bingo games. In some places players are opting for online bingo thanks to smoking bans. In Nebraska total revenues from every bingo game in the state totaled less than $500,000, quite a decline from the game’s heyday. The future of charity bingo is uncertain across the United States.

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