The Sad Decline of Church Bingo

The game of bingo has had a long and profitable relationship with churches, charities and fraternal organizations for decades. Because of the game’s association with these groups bingo has a clean reputation and there is little stigma associated with playing bingo. Recently several newspapers and media sources have reported that today church bingo seems to be declining. In the age of social media, the internet and legalized gambling the decline of church bingo seems inevitable.

In its prime bingo games served a variety of purposes. People socialized, risked a little money in the hopes of winning a few extra bucks for spending money. Players also knew they were contributing to a good cause when playing church bingo. One Parish in Ohio was able to keep tuition affordable at their parochial school because of the thousands raised by bingo games. Because of a steep drop in player numbers the parish was forced to raise tuition and cancel some scholarships.

All of these incentives still exist but today church bingo games must compete with many other options including tribal casinos, internet bingo and mobile bingo games. Cable and satellite TV have also contributed to the decline in player numbers. In many locations church bingo games have reached a tipping point; when the amount brought in by the games does not exceed the amount spent the fundraising value of bingo is zero. In Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania Monsignor Joseph Rauscher, pastor of St. Nicholas Church, told reporters “When it costs us money to give away prizes, when it’s no longer financially feasible, that’s when it can’t continue.”

At St. Nicks the loss of the bingo games would be particularly sad. The parish held its first bingo games in 1933. Rauscher said that in its prime the games would bring in as much as $45,000 annually for the parish. The first charity bingo games were started by a Catholic priest who approached the inventor of the modern version of bingo Edwin S. Lowe and asked him to produce randomly numbered bingo cards suitable for large games. In many communities bingo is more than a game; it is a part of local culture. For almost a hundred years players could find a game in just about any town in America. Hopefully church bingo will find a way to survive.