Casinos Put Pressure on Local Bingo Halls

In the US local bingo halls have been pressured by a stagnant economy and an aging group or players. Now bingo halls are facing a new threat from casinos and slots parlors. In the 27 months since casinos have opened in Maryland bingo halls have seen a rapid decline in player numbers. Some hall operators say regular players have been lured away from their regular bingo games by larger jackpots and flashy slot machines at casinos. Bingo World, a commercial bingo hall south of Baltimore, has experienced a 255 drop in player numbers since the casinos opened.  Bingo World manager Randy Clemens stated “We have found that people who used to come maybe two or three days (a week) now only come one, and when they come, they don’t have as much money as they used to have. We’re trying to give away more and more to just keep the clientele we have.”

Bingo World is one of a few commercial bingo halls in the Baltimore area and bingo has long been used to raise funds for local charities. Al Meyer, who manages bingo three nights a week at the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, said that player numbers have declined at the charity games because of the new casinos. Meyer has extensive experience in the bingo industry and once worked for casino mogul Steve Wynn. Meyer estimated that player numbers have dropped 18% since the casinos opened nearby.

Both bingo managers described how bingo differs from casino gambling; it is cheaper and more social. Meyer said that some players had been attending games for decades. In some areas bingo halls are fighting back. In Lancaster California Agnes Myles has been playing bingo for decades. A typical grandmother she feels that computers are best left to her grandchildren. At her local bingo hall Myles uses a computer to play several cards at once, increasing her chances of winning a jackpot. Myles stated “The more cards you play, the better your chances are.”

In many halls bingo is going electronic dragging many seniors into the computer era. Bingo and the charities that depend on it have been pressured by the spread of other forms of legal gambling. Tribal bingo halls and casinos are not bound by the same state regulations that limit the jackpots a charity can offer. To counter the trend many charity games are using sophisticated technology to lure players. In Maryland some bingo halls have installed slot like machines. Bingo World has installed several video pull-tab machines. The machines look like slots but are different under state law. According to Clemens the machines generate 50% of the hall’s income. Clemens told reporters “By allowing us to go into the electronic world, it has helped us immensely.”