BINGO goes BUST
Recession, smoking ban blamed for bingo decline
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.”
Bingo players mark their cards during bingo night at Nativity of Our Savior church in Portage.
Bingo cards are marked during bingo night at Nativity of Our Savior church in Portage.