Lynn Spruill: BINGO!


Lynn Spruill



Up until recently the only reference that bingo conjured up for me was the simple little ditty about the farmer's dog: "and B.I.N.G.O. was his name O." Not so any more. 


After this week's Baby Boomer and Senior Expo held in Starkville, I developed a whole new respect for the unexpected but obvious popularity of Bingo, the game. I used to pretty much dismiss it as a parlor game; little did I know how deep in the minority I reside. 


The Boomer Expo had over 400 mostly senior folks who came for the food and the bingo with the serendipity of getting important information on some of the services available to them. According to the experts on seniors, bingo has it all over insurance or financial planning or medical services. Entertainment is the driver and apparently bingo is the game of choice or perhaps I should say chance. 


The organizer, Cindy Brown, did apparently what most organizers have never done. She actually researched what it is the seniors enjoy. Her goal was fun and at the same time help them meet the people and businesses who are concentrating on serving seniors as a client base. 


Coming from those who attend these functions regularly, it was an unqualified success. The standard for these events is to have at least the same number of attendees as you have vendors. This one had a 4 to 1 ratio. Bingo! 


I have gotten so many phone calls registering their surprise in that spectacular participation. The question always comes back to "how did she do it?" The answer is pretty simple. She actually provided what they wanted as well as what they needed. There is a lesson there. Could it be: Bingo? 


According to Internet sources, Bingo has been around since 1530 and it began in Italy as "del Lotto d'Italia." That's not exactly what we play now, but similar. Jump forward to 1778 and the French aristocracy are playing "le Lotto" in their exclusive banquet halls. 


To get to the current form played today we have to rely on someone named Edwin S. Lowe playing a carnival chance game called Beano. Upon hearing a friend mistakenly utter the immortal words BINGO instead of Beano; the game was born. So Mr. Lowe is credited with putting it on the path toward the popularity it enjoys today. 


The State of Mississippi only allows bingo as a charitable endeavor through the Mississippi Gaming Commission. It is regulated as though it were a gambling enterprise. It would seem that our bible-belt mentality fits bingo into that category of sinful activity; hence the need for the proceeds to go to good deed doers. I guess it is okay to sin as long as the wages of sin help a worthy cause. 


Fortunately for the Expo, the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, a recipient of copious amounts of government funding, has a bingo license and were kind enough to host the event. The gaming commission should be satisfied on that front. 


The opportunity to play bingo in Mississippi is most often associated with such non-profits as the Shriner's Club, VFW, American Legion and Elk's Lodge. They are in large part the fund raisers for each of the agencies. 


I spent some thinking about what makes bingo so appealing. Aside from the obvious opportunity to win, part of what seems to make the game have personality is the caller. Steve Schill of WCBI was the star of the Expo day as he called the bingo numbers, danced with the ladies and kept the chatter going and the energy high. The crowd loved it. 


I have never been to a bingo hall so I had no idea how those games are conducted. What I do know however, is that if there are that many people who find bingo entertaining, I need to pay closer attention to the game. There must be some uncharted charm to being able to yell in a crowded hall: BINGO! 


One day soon, I may just have to grab up Slim Smith and drag him with me to the bingo hall in Columbus. Never let it be said that I didn't keep an open mind for new experiences. Bingo, anyone? 




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