Saving Church Bingo

A recent article in a Pennsylvania newspaper describes the steady decline of church bingo over the years. Today people have access to the internet, social media, online bingo and gambling and smart phones making the decline of church bingo inevitable. In the past bingo nights at local churches served a variety of purposes. Church bingo gave players a good excuse to get out of the house for an evening and socialize with friends. Many people found excitement in placing small wagers and the challenges of figuring out a winning ‘system’ for bingo. For seniors on fixed incomes the thrill of winning a few extra dollars and the knowledge they were contributing to good causes kept them coming back.

All of the incentives provided by bingo are still there but they must compete with large casinos, cable television and computers and smartphones that make it possible for people to entertain themselves. In many places bingo games have reached the tipping point. At many churches expenses are more than the amounts taken in and many can no longer afford to host bingo nights. In one Ohio parish officials were forced to raise tuition at their parochial school because of a decline in bingo generated revenues. Several veterans’ organizations have had to end their bingo games because they are no longer profitable.

Monsignor Joseph Rauscher, pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania bluntly stated “When it costs us money to give away prizes, when it’s no longer financially feasible, that’s when it can’t continue.” The loss of bingo at St. Nick’s is an unhappy milestone. The church hosted their first bingo games back in 1933. Bingo first became popular when a parish priest approached Edwin S. Lowe, the creator of the modern version of the game, and asked him to decrease winning combinations on the cards to increase profits for his church. Lowe obliged and the rest is history.

The decline in bingo attendance has meant less money for churches and fraternal organizations. Rauscher said that when bingo was in its prime at the church it generated about $45,000 annually. For almost a century players could find a game no matter where they were. The loss of bingo would affect seniors who depend on the games for entertainment. Most of the older players do not play internet bingo. Hopefully church bingo will find a way to survive well into the future.