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ROCKLAND – The Rockland Elks Lodge at 220 Rankin Street have played Bingo every Wednesday night for 30 years. Exceptions, of course, are snow storms and holidays. The rules are simple: Fill a row on your card, called a face, with called numbers and yell, “Bingo.”
When you call Bingo, a floor walker will verify your card and a computer will say if the win is a good one. You then collect the jackpot, which can be $35, $45, $60 or $80. A check for your win is written on the spot and you go home a winner.
A special end of the night game can net you as much as $500.
Bill Bachofner is a member of the Elks Lodge, a trustee and co-chairman of the Bingo committee. He said Bingo runs every Wednesday night through the year.
“We average 60 people or so on Bingo night,” he said. “We have our regulars and our numbers used to be a lot higher, but that was when they allowed smoking in the lodge. When they outlawed smoking, our crowds dropped from 140 to around 90 and over the years they have just sort of dwindled.”
One would think the lure of a little legal gambling would have a strong appeal to the middle-aged crowd. Couples and small groups could enjoy a fun night out without traveling a great distance.
The state of Maine considers it an game of chance and therefore regulates it. The state’s gambling control unit is responsible for the administration and enforcement of Bingo. That includes licensing and inspection for compliance.
Bachofner said it is not really a young person’s game, though it could be.
“There are too many distractions now for younger people,” he said. “You can play it on your phone, so we get an older crowd here.”
Mark Ross Sr., a player, said he couldn’t remember how many years he’s been coming to play Bingo every Wednesday but it has been more than a few.
“I win, occasionally,” he said. “I lose more then I win, but I have a lot of fun doing it. I do enjoy the game. Every once in a while I’ll win the $500 and that makes it worthwhile.”
Lisa Nash-Carleton and her mother, Loretta Nash, have both been playing Bingo since they were kids.
“My mother used to take me,” said Loretta. “You have your spells at winning, but I don’t do too badly. You win for a while and then you lose. It’s fun and we like to play.”
Lisa said she had been coming to play since she was six years old.
“I’m not going to tell you how long that is,” she said. “I’ve been dropping my mother off and she plays by herself, but I do come and play, occasionally. It’s a lot of fun. I play with my daughters when I go visit them in San Diego.”
Bachofner said they apply to the state for a license every year and pay a fee.
“They can inspect us any time during the year,” he said. “They will do a drop-in inspection. We don’t know when they are coming. They will stay usually for the first set and watch how we operate.”
Elk member and Bingo helper Frederick Bess writes the checks to the winners.
“It can be exciting at times,” he said. “Some people do really well here; they are luckier then others. People have a lot of fun playing. We have to be quick. We’re here writing checks and in just a minute or two another game has begun. We have runners who take the checks to the people. It takes a lot of people to make it all run smooth and we’re all volunteers.”
There are separate buy ins for the shotgun games as well and it’s a winner take all game.
Bess said, “the blackout, at the end of the night, is the most exciting time.
“That one can be up to $500,” he said. “Of course, the more people who come and play the more money we have to award to winners. We keep playing until we cover the whole board with numbers, which is why it’s called a blackout. There are two shotgun games, where we just call numbers and no letters. Those go pretty fast.”
Bess said for earlier games there are designs on the cards that are required to be filled to win.
“Once the spaces are filled they call Bingo,” he said. “The runners go to that person and on the card is some numbers. It’s all computerized and they can tell from that number if it was a Bingo from that game.”
Bachofner said that $500 is the maximum amount they can pay out for any one game.
“Say we take in $1,500,” he said. “We would play three games for $500 on the final. The final blackout game is a separate buy in. This evening we took in $463, so we’ll play the last game for $463.”
Payouts depend on how many people buy in, the more people who play, the bigger the payouts.
The rules of etiquette are simple:
No talking while numbers are being called.
Don’t crowd people at the table. Give them room to spread out.
If it’s your first night there and someone asks you to move because you are in their lucky seat, do so without comment.
If you get a Bingo, you must call it out before the next number is called.
Luck charms are allowed to be displayed on the table in front of you.
It’s a great night of fun. There is a snack bar available with hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches, sweets and chips and soda, all for nominal prices. Specials if you have a heartier appetite. And free popcorn.
Lots of seating can accommodate small and large groups, as well as just you and a friend.