Bingo Banned in the 1950’s in New York

People that love to play bingo would be amazed to know that during the 1950’s bingo was a serious crime in western New York state. Between 1951 and 1958 playing bingo was illegal in Batavia, Genesee County and virtually all of Western New York. It is hard for most people to imaging since bingo in the United States is usually associated with churches and charities. Bingo has long been a fundraising staple at Elks Clubs, Polish Falcons, American Legion posts and many church and fire halls. The bingo ban was part of a crackdown on gambling in New York in the 50’s.

Bingo games were popular fundraising strategies for many organizations. Overzealous law enforcement officials feared that the bingo games would be taken over by organized crime groups. They also feared that bingo would lead to more serious forms of gambling. While the idea sounds laughable today back in the 50’s many were taken in by the anti gambling campaigns. Some ‘religious’ organizations like the State Council of Churches believed that bingo was immoral and that gambling fostered wrongdoing and exploited players.

In 1951 police in Rochester and Buffalo raided and shut down bingo parlors. They seized pinball machines and cracked down on gambling in both cities. Law enforcement officials in Batavia and Genesee County were afraid that bingo players from Buffalo and Rochester would migrate to their towns to play. On April 5, 1951, Genesee County District Attorney Wallace Stakel announced that all bingo games were banned until ”there has been some authoritative decision in the courts allowing it.” Other officials supported Stakel including Sheriff G. Forrest Brown, Batavia Police Chief George J. Boothby and police officials in Le Roy.

In a statement Stakel said ‘The law enforcement authorities stated that, in view of the drive on bingo in the neighboring metropolitan areas of Buffalo and Rochester, Genesee County was not willing to have an influx of bingo players from adjoining counties. The action in particular was precipitated by the rumors that bingo operators were planning to come into Genesee County with buses of bingo players from adjoining counties.” In 2013 a busload of bingo players would be welcomed in Genesee County. A referendum in 1957 finally resolved the issue. Voters approved bingo with 1,643,662 ballots in favor and 1,018,645 against.

Today bingo games are available in most states. Bingo went online in 1996 and today is a large industry employing thousands. Internet bingo allows players who do not have access to a bingo hall to play their favorite game from the privacy and comfort of home. There are many internet bingo sites that accept American players and games are available 24/7.