BINGO goes BUST

Re­ces­sion, smok­ing ban blamed for bingo de­cline

Post-Tribune - - Front Page - BY KAREN CAFFARINI Post-Tri­bune cor­re­spon­dent

The thrill of yelling, “Bingo!” in a hall full of play­ers ap­pears to be wan­ing across the state, and in North­west In­di­ana.

The glory days of packed ban­quet halls at churches and non­prof­its on bingo nights are gone, some or­ga­niz­ers say, hurt by the one-two punch of the economic re­ces­sion and the state-im­posed smok­ing ban that took ef­fect on July 1, 2012.

The num­bers of play­ers has dropped, dra­mat­i­cally at some places, in the past few years. Many of the churches and or­ga­ni­za­tions quit having bingo nights al­to­gether.

In­di­ana Gam­ing Com­mis­sion statis­tics show there were 61 bingo halls in Lake County in 2005, but only 29 halls in 2013. In Porter County, there were 17 halls in 2005 and 12 in 20013.

But there is some good news for lovers of the game of chance and the non­prof­its that hope to make some money by hold­ing those games: both or­ga­niz­ers and a state of­fi­cial say bingo is mak­ing a slight come­back.

“At­ten­dance is in­creas­ing slightly, but it’s noth­ing like the good old days,” said Frank Farkas, who or­ga­nizes bingo at Na­tiv­ity of Our Sav­ior Church and school in Portage.

It’s in the num­bers

Diane Free­man, direc­tor of char­ity gam­ing with the In­di­ana Gam­ing Com­mis­sion, said the num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions re­quest­ing li­censes to con­duct up to three games per week showed de­clines for the past few years, but she’s see­ing a slight in­crease in 2014.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion’s an­nual re­ports, there’s also been a de­cline in gross re­ceipts and net prof­its from the game through the years.

In 2005, Lake County bingo halls brought in $32.4 mil­lion in gross re­ceipts, with net pro­ceeds af­ter ex­penses of $4 mil­lion. Of that amount, $600,000 went to char­ity, $3 mil­lion was re­tained by the or­ga­niz­ers and $452,000 was undis­tributed.

In 2013, gross re­ceipts from bingo were down to $18.6 mil­lion in Lake County, with net pro­ceeds of $703,300 af­ter ex­penses. About $93,200 went to char­ity and $716,000 was re­tained.

In Porter County, bingo halls took in $2.7 mil­lion in gross re­ceipts in 2005 with net pro­ceeds of $470,000; $109,000 go­ing to char­ity and $305,000 re­tained.

In 2013, gross re­ceipts were down to $817,000 with net pro­ceeds of $84,100, $7,000 go­ing to char­ity and $64,400 re­tained by the or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Na­tiv­ity of Our Sav­ior didn’t have bingo in 2005, but it showed an 8 per­cent loss in 2012, in­creas­ing to a 1 per­cent gain in 2013. Izaak Wal­ton League of Amer­ica Grif­fith Chap­ter showed an 11 per­cent profit from its bingo nights in 2005. By 2012, the league’s prof­its plum­meted to a 29 per­cent loss.

“When we started having bingo once a week we’d get 80 to 90 peo­ple a night. For the last cou­ple of months we’re down to about 50 peo­ple,” said Tim Rus­sell, pres­i­dent of the Grif­fith Chap­ter of the Izaak Wal­ton League and bingo op­er­a­tor. “In sum­mer, it drops even more as peo­ple go to fes­ti­vals and watch their grand­chil­dren.”

Rus­sell said the chap­ter no­ticed a huge de­cline once the smok­ing ban went into ef­fect. He said a few halls have sep­a­rate smok­ing and non­smok­ing ar­eas, and can still of­fer bingo. He be­lieves play­ers are choos­ing to go to those places now. The chap­ter’s build­ing isn’t set up for sep­a­rate ar­eas, he said.

“Smok­ing and gam­bling seem to go hand-in-hand,” he said.

Farkas said gamers can still

smoke at the re­gion’s casi­nos.

“It’s an is­sue of choos­ing slots over bingo,” Farkas said.

Farkas also blames the re­ces­sion for much of the down­turn. He said a good por­tion of the church’s clien­tele are older and he’s seen an in­flux of play­ers at the be­gin­ning and end of the month, when they re­ceive their So­cial Se­cu­rity checks or get draws on ac­counts. At­ten­dance in the mid­dle of the month is down, he said.

Free­man said some of the down­turn could be due to peo­ple switch­ing from bingo to other gam­ing choices.

“Some­times it’s just a mat­ter of what’s hot. Some­times peo­ple get tired of a par­tic­u­lar ac­tiv­ity,” she said.

“For a while Texas Hold ’Em poker was re­ally hot. I saw char­ity game night li­censes for that in­crease while bingo li­censes de­clined,” she said.

Turn­ing the tide

Many or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing Na­tiv­ity of Our Sav­ior and the Izaak Wal­ton League, rely on pro­ceeds from bingo nights to off­set some of their costs and are look­ing for ways to boost in­ter­est in the game.

Farkas said bingo night at the church is run by par­ents and the pro­ceeds sub­stan­tially sub­si­dize tu­ition at the school, which has more than 250 stu­dents in kinder­garten through eighth grade.

“With­out it, we’d be in trou­ble,” Farkas said.

Rus­sell said profit from bingo nights helps pay the league’s bills and sup­ports its var­i­ous en­deav­ors, in­clud­ing con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties and its Take a Kid Fish­ing pro­gram.

Rus­sell hopes those who left the league’s bingo night for casi­nos will miss the per­sonal touch they get at the league and re­turn.

“We have the same vol­un­teers all the time. Play­ers get to know them. There’s a lot of laugh­ing and jok­ing go­ing on,” Rus­sell said.

Farkas said the church has been work­ing to at­tract a younger crowd to help boost its at­ten­dance through dif­fer­ent themed bingo nights, such as its highly suc­cess­ful cos­mic bingo night.

“It comes down to be­ing more in­no­va­tive,” Farkas said.

“We know how to do bingo. It just needs some tweaks.”

| KYLE TELECHAN/FOR SUN-TIMES ME­DIA

Bingo play­ers mark their cards dur­ing bingo night at Na­tiv­ity of Our Sav­ior church in Portage.

| KYLE TELECHAN/FOR SUN-TIMES ME­DIA

Bingo cards are marked dur­ing bingo night at Na­tiv­ity of Our Sav­ior church in Portage.

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