Declining Bingo Revenues Pressure Veteran’s Groups

n Maine the American Legion and other veterans’ organizations are experiencing a sharp drop in revenues as bingo revenues disappear resulting in fewer donations to local charities and fewer officers to help veterans with their claims. Veterans groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have hosted bingo nights for decades and were one of the chief funding sources for both organizations. Local posts are struggling because many once frequent bingo players not attend games at local casinos and play the state’s lottery in hopes of winning a larger jackpot than those offered at charity bingo games.

Veteran’s organizations are now lobbying legislators to allow the groups to install video poker machines so they can remain competitive. American Legion Post 10 in Livermore Falls used to have 50 to 60 bingo players every night but the numbers fell so much that the post was forced to end the once lucrative games. Today the post relies on fundraising dinners that bring in about $200 a month and the money is used to pay heating bills and insurance costs. Executive director Don Simoneau said ‘But $100 to $200 a month isn’t going to keep the post’s doors open. We’re constantly selling raffle tickets or chasing money, and it is tough.’’

The first casino in Maine opened in 2005 in Bangor. Five years later another casino opened in Oxford. The casinos have hurt business at the veteran’s organizations. Officers say that players no longer want to pay $20 for a bingo game when the prize is only $40. Former bingo players are going to the casinos where they have the chance to win thousands. According to state police department figures between 2009 and 2011, the state’s 174 Legion posts saw net bingo revenue drop by nearly $130,000.

The issue is compounded by declining memberships. John Hargreaves, commander of the American Legion Department of Maine said the problem is national as World War 2 veterans die. Over the past 20 years Maine’s American Legion posts have lost about 8,000 members. That means that means $100,000 less coming in every year in membership dues. Maine’s Veterans of Foreign Wars posts have lost over 10,000 members over the last 20 years. Fewer dollars are going to programs supported by the posts such as the Special Olympics.

The veteran’s groups hope that a bill signed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage will ease some of their financial concerns. The state will put 2% generated by the casinos into a fund to help veteran’s organizations. Bingo fans in Maine that cannot find a game locally should consider internet bingo. Currently there are several bingo sites that offer charity games.