Popular game helps charities, entertains many


Amid a cluster of vibrant-hued daubers, 36 playing cards and a chilled soda at her usual table, bingo regular Dee Darensbourg gazes at the illuminated 1960s-style callboard as she anticipates her winning number.

“B8,” the announcer says.

Darensbourg clenches her hot-pink dauber while she closely watches him read the smudged ball’s letter and number.

N44,” he says.

Without hesitation Darensbourg shouts the game’s winning word, “Bingo!”

One of America’s most popular pastimes, bingo is an affordable form of recreation among the money-conscious.

Introduced during the late 1920s at a carnival near Atlanta, bingo was originally called “beano” because participants marked cardboard cards with beans. Nearly 80 years later, the game has evolved into a fundraising tool used by charitable organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and churches to support community, youth and veteran programs. “People love to play bingo because it’s a unique form of gambling for a lesser amount of dollars expended,” said Russell Voorhies, commander of Waveland’s American Legion Post No. 77. “As the city tries to recover after Katrina, we are sorely lacking in reasonable places of entertainment.

“By hosting bingo at the American Legion, it offers people of all income levels with a place for reasonable entertainment while benefitting the Legion, veterans and youths of local communities,” Voorhies said.

Although the concept of bingo is relatively simple, the legalities of the game are rather complex. In October 1992 the Mississippi Legislature passed the Charitable Bingo Law, which authorizes bingo to fund groups, associations and clubs registered with the secretary of state’s office as nonprofit organizations. The law also limits the times and numbers of games allowed per week.

“Before 1992 there was no method of assuring that any of the bingo proceeds were going to charity because the statutory requirements were so limited,” said Eddie Williams, the deputy director of the Charitable Gaming Division of the Mississippi Gaming Division. “Now we have seven agents throughout the state that regulate approximately 75 bingo halls.”

Charitable organizations that participate in bingo operations are required to have licenses and adhere to the 60/40 regulation.

“The 60/40 rule basically says that after the prize payouts and Mississippi Gaming Commission fees, only 60 percent of that remaining amount of money can be used to operate the actual game, such as utilities, staff and advertisement,” Williams said.

“And 40 percent, which is the minimum requirement, must go back to the charity that holds the license for that particular bingo operation.”

In the case of Waveland’s American Legion, its 40-percent-or-more requirement is redirected to the post to fund various community programs, such as Soldiers’ Angels, Hope Haven Youth Health Fair and the New York Fire Department’s distribution of Christmas presents, Voorhies said.

From July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009, the total receipt of the 28 bingo halls throughout the three South Mississippi counties — Hancock, Harrison and Jackson –—was $5,954,429. The adjusted gross amount given to charities totaled $1,173,424, according to Williams.

But the post-Katrina 2009 fiscal-year revenue is down about 20 percent to 25 percent from the similar period of July 1, 2004, through June 30, 2005, Williams added.

“After Hurricane Katrina around 25 to 30 (bingo) halls either had to relocate or rebuild, but most have returned,” he said. “About five or six halls still have not reopened.”

Aside from Katrina and the recession’s negative impact on bingo, Williams said bingo operations in South Mississippi are different because of the proximity of casinos.

“Most of the bingo halls on the Gulf Coast are American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars’ posts where they usually play one to three days per week,” he said. “But for regions where casino gaming is not right out the door — like in northern Mississippi counties — they have larger bingo halls that may play two sessions per day, four days a week.

“It’s a different climate on the Gulf Coast,” Williams added.

Bingo halls in Mississippi are divided into three classes based on attendance and the amount of money players spend.

An “A” hall can have a maximum prize of $7,500; a “B” hall, $5,000 to $2,500; and a “C” hall, $2,500 or less.

Players choose from three bingo paper packs that contain 10 games. Packs can include as few as six bingo cards per game, costing $8, for instance, while other packs include 18 bingo cards per game, costing $20.

Darensbourg, an avid bingo player at the American Legion post in Waveland, plays two 18-card packs per game, a total of 360 cards.

“I like to play bingo because it’s fun and it eases my mind,” she said. “People think bingo is for old folks, but it’s not.

“This game is for anybody who wants to relax and enjoy themselves.”

          Bingo players enjoy games at the American Legion Post No. 77 at 503 Waveland Ave., where games are Thursday, Friday and Sunday beginning at 7 p.m.

          Active bingo numbers are lit up on the big board in the Pascagoula Elk’s Lodge bingo hall.

By SARAH CURE – Sun Herald

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