Bingo in Trouble in Western New York

Parish bingo games have been a long standing tradition at parishes throughout the United States and Canada. The very first charity bingo games were started by a Catholic priest who approached the game’s inventor Edwin S. Lowe and asked him to design cards with random numbers that could be used in large games. The initial games were a big success and within a few years Catholic parishes across the US held regular bingo games.  Today that tradition seems to be fading and many parishes have stop hosting bingo games.

In Buffalo New York Friday night bingo at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church brought in $20,000 to $30,000 every month for years. Rev. Donald Lutz, pastor at the Old First Ward parish, told reporters “It was wonderful because it was easy to set up. It ran itself.” By 2011 attendance at the fames fell from about 120 people to fewer than 75. Some believe that the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, located less than a mile away lured several players. To make matters even worse another organization changed their bingo night to the same night as Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s and offered bigger jackpots. Since the games were no longer profitable the parish stopped the games Lutz told reporters “It’s just not there anymore. There was nothing we could do.”

Bingo was once a fundraising mainstay in churches, veterans’ groups and fraternal organizations. In Western New York bingo is fading fast. The New York State Gaming Commission said that during the past fifteen year’s bingo receipts in Erie and Niagara counties fell by almost 75%. During the same period the number of organizations hosting bingo games dropped by 80%. Many blame the casinos in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. Some blame the smoking ban that went into effect in 1997. Earlier in the year the area’s oldest bingo game was shut down. Tonawandas Post 264 of the  American Legion, in the City of Tonawanda closed their doors after 80 years of games.

Across the border in the Toronto area bingo revenues are also declining. Some halls have added electronic devices in an attempt to lure younger players. The internet bingo industry has actually benefitted from the decline of live bingo games. Sites report an increase in player numbers and are ramping up marketing efforts in some parts of the US.