As a total bingo newbie, I didn’t know what to expect as I stepped into the Gold Coast Bingo Center for the first time.
I had been assigned to write up something on bingo in Las Vegas, but I had never played the game and I didn’t know much about it beyond numbered cards and calling out “Bingo!” when one of the rows fills up. But the Las Vegas area is home to about two dozen bingo halls, ranging in size from 100 seats to more than 700, so there just had to be more to this whole bingo thing than meets the eye.
The hall at Gold Coast could have easily been a cafeteria in a past life. It was a big, beige room with nine rows of long tables. Cashiers and a little snack bar flanked the entrance to the left and right, and a raised stage, where the caller stood, was at the far end.
I paid for my electronic bingo ticket and took a seat near the entrance to watch people filter in.
It was an early afternoon on a Tuesday, so only about 100 or 150 people showed up, but that was more than enough to take notice that bingo fans are a surprisingly diverse group: young and old alike, men, women, couples, families.
Some came alone and didn’t really mingle, while others arrived in large groups. As cocktail waitresses passed by, it was easy to note who the regulars were – and there were at quite a few of them – from the occasional familiar nod from the waitresses.
Since I bought an electronic ticket, my bingo cards were displayed on a lunchbox-shaped contraption with a touchscreen on it. This device lets you play multiple card packs at once and automatically marks the numbers for you as they get called. I figured this would let me observe the bingo hall ambiance.
These were surprisingly popular: some folks with electronic sets just talked with their group the whole time, while others brought reading material and let the game play itself: I saw a few paperbacks and some newspapers here and there. One woman sitting a few tables down from me must have gotten through both major local newspapers. Another woman had an electronic game running and also had a paper game, with dauber in hand.
I picked up some reading material of my own: the Bingo Bugle, a monthly tabloid-sized publication for bingo die-hards.
Speaking of die-hards, some of the players set up their area with charms and tchotchkes, the most popular of which seem to be the messy-haired Troll dolls, but I did spot one miniature maneki neko (the “good luck cat” often seen near the entrance of Japanese restaurants) and some jade-colored dragons.
According to an ad in the Bingo Bugle, these charms are a big part of the merchandise at Bingo Novelty World, located just a few blocks down from the Gold Coast.
That’s right, there is a brick-and-mortar bingo store and I found out about it from reading the bingo newspaper. What a crazy world we live in! As the session came to a close, I knew that I had to see it for myself.
So, what does a bingo store sell?
Miniature dragons, Buddhas, neko and elephants. Elvis, Valentine’s Day and even politically-themed daubers. And of course, they had varieties of trolls, from a rainbow-haired one wishing you a lucky year in bingo to a set of five spelling out the word “BINGO” on their shirts.
Kitschy? A little. Cheesy? Sure. But it’s all pretty darn funny, too.
This is where it became clear to me that this game has charms beyond the possibility of hitting the jackpot. I chatted for a bit with the store’s owner (and co-editor of the Bingo Bugle) Don Carrier, and it became clear to me that an entire culture has grown around bingo.
See, the young crowd tends to play bingo at Red Rock. Palace Station gets the long-time bingo fans. Some of my friends play at Sam’s Town. A few people at a apartment complex near my house take bingo trips to Arizona Charlie’s every week. What seemed like a quaint game reserved for retirees is a bigger deal than what I expected and much more popular.
So what did I take out of this whole experience? That you should try bingo at least once! It’s a fun environment and it’s open to people from all walks of life. You can be as active or passive as you like and you’ll have a blast if you bring a group. Fun little charms, comp drinks and snacks, plus the chance to win some money? Sign me up!
And in case you were wondering, I didn’t win anything this time, though I came within one square of winning on a few rounds. The lady with electronic and paper games took home the big $632 jackpot for that session.
I think I might have to borrow that strategy to win against all those youngsters at Red Rock…
Enjoy these pictures of some of the bingo merchandise at Bingo Novelty World:
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