It was a good crowd for a chilly winter night in Minnesota.
The KC hall was packed with the Friday night regulars, but there were also a few first timers in the mix as well.. Some of the gray haired ladies in the room resembled Maxine (of Hallmark card fame) but the clouds of smoke surrounding them had disappeared a few years ago, a victim of political correctness.
Rick held sway at the front of the room, calmly calling off numbers as they popped out of the container, a position that he had volunteered to do for at least a decade. After about 10 minutes, Rick called out “B14”, and the room exploded in a frenzy of excitement. Kathy, one of the regulars in the third row, hollered “BINGO” at the top of her lungs, and the attendants quickly scurried to verify her win, and to dole out her cash.
At some point in our lives, we’ve all played bingo, either at a church or at a Knights of Columbus hall. Chances are pretty good, though, that you have no idea how bingo originated, or why the Catholic Church has a strong connection to it.
Bingo as we know it today actually started in Italy in 1530, when the country was reunited, and it’s actually a variation of the lottery games that are currently played in nearly every state in America. The game has been played almost continuously since that time, and it’s an important contributor to Italy’s economy. The best estimate is that it contributes the equivalent of $75,000,000 to the Italian economy every year.
The game migrated to America at the start of the Great Depression, and the person most responsible for its transplantation here was a toy salesman named Edwin S. Lowe. H e observed a crowd of people playing a game called “Beano” at a carnival in Jacksonville, Georgia, and was captivated by the intense interest in the game.
When he returned home to New York, he started playing the game with a group of friends at his apartment. On one especially exciting evening, one of his friends got so excited that that she stammered out “b-b-b-bingo” instead of “beano” - and the name stuck.
Not long after returning to New York, Mr. Lowe was approached by a priest from a parish in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who saw the game as an opportunity to rescue his parish from its dire financial situation. The scheme worked, and shortly thereafter, bingo games also saved a Knights of Columbus hall in Utica, New York.
News about these early successes spread fast, and by 1934, there were an estimated 10,000 Bingo games played every week. In the early 1930’s, the largest Bingo game in history was played in New York’s Teaneck Armory. 60,000 people participated in the event, and 10,000 more were turned away at the door. In addition to the cash prizes, 10 automobiles were given away.
In the last decade, interest in Bingo has faded, in large part due to state sanctioned alternatives like lottery games, off track betting, and state casinos. In spite of declining revenue, though, it’s unlikely that Bingo games are going to disappear at any time in the near future. Decades before Facebook came into being, Friday night Bingo games were the original “social networking” outlet for a LOT of folks in America- - and they still are today.
If you haven’t played Bingo for a while, I’d recommend that you find a game in your area, pay your admission fee - and start “stamping”.
To quote Humphrey Bogart (of Casablanca fame) it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.