Bingo is the game-o

By on November 12, 2014

It might be a gamble, but the possibility of winning brings out crowds of people to play bingo in Lancaster County. On Sunday, Nov. 9, Akron’s Volunteer Fire Company hosted gift card bingo, an event held to raise money for the fire company.

If you are going to play bingo, there are a few things you should know.

Lucy Shelley of Lititz intently watches her bingo card for the winning numbers. (Photos by Lenay Ruhl)

Lucy Shelley of Lititz intently watches her bingo card for the winning numbers. (Photos by Lenay Ruhl)

It’s a big deal. Arrive early. Pulling into the fire hall about ten minutes before game time, the parking lot was packed and volunteers stood outside directing traffic. You would think Tom Corbett was in town, what with the amount of people arriving for the event.

Bring cash. Cards were available for $20 cash ahead of time or $25 the day of. But, there are regular bingo games and then special bingo games. To get in on the specials, which have higher dollar prizes, you have to purchase additional bingo cards. The cost is usually $2 to $3 a card.

Come hungry. At this particular bingo there was food and drink available for purchase. They had hot dogs, toasted cheeseburgers, soup, homemade whoopie pies and other baked goods, chips, vegetable trays and drinks.

Pay attention to the rules. If you are not an experienced bingo player, you will want to make sure you learn the rules. There is very little patience for those who do not know how to play the game. If you call bingo before the announcer says the number, you will hear a chorus of “not yet!” throughout the room. And you definitely do not want to call bingo too late. If your winning numbers do not include the last number called, you didn’t win.

Prepare to sit. You sit a long time, and the folding chairs are hard. Some people brought their own cushion to soften their seats.

Silence your cell phone. Cell phones can be a distraction. One of the rules is to have your cell phone turned off, or at least on silent. On Sunday, immediately after this rule was announced and the game started, someone’s phone rang. Not only did the familiar ring tone come on, but the person answered their phone. There were murmurs of disgust heard around the room.

The event is family friendly — at least this one was. There was no swearing, violence, alcohol or rock ‘n’ roll at this bingo. People brought their kids, and a few even brought their husbands to the event. There were very few men in the fire hall playing bingo. Sometimes, the fire company is known to do themed bingos for the men, but this one predominantly draws women, according to Sara Leisey, a 12-year volunteer at the fire company.

Akron Fire Company Volunteer Aaron Murray calls the numbers at Bingo on Sunday, Nov. 9.

Akron Fire Company Volunteer Aaron Murray calls the numbers at Bingo on Sunday, Nov. 9.

At this particular bingo, the stakes were high, with $50 gift cards available to places like Target, Applebee’s, Kohl’s, Starbucks, Walmart, Best Buy and other shopping and eating establishments. The special bingos had gift card prizes with $150 value. In between rounds they would do door prize drawings.

The fire hall was noisy with chatter and the sound of the balls constantly moving in the announcer’s stand, ready to pop out and display the next number. There were two TV screens to view the next bingo number, and a board to track the numbers that were already called.

Sharon Greenly of Lititz and Lori Kreiser of Palmyra always play bingo together, and they play about 15 games a year. They went to their first bingo together in Mount Joy a few years ago, and have been playing ever since.

When asked about their winnings and losings, they joked about what the chances of actually winning bingo are.

“One in a million probably, the way it is going for us,” said Greenly.

Greenly pulls a little book from her purse. Inside, she has tracked all of their bingos. This gift card bingo was their 13th bingo this year, and out of all those games they only won twice.

The ladies like to come because they see some of the same faces and often make friends. Greenly said that bingo relaxes her, and the lady beside her said this was her first bingo of the year.

“After this I’m done,” the woman said. “It aggravates me.”

Bingo is for all ages. Claire Miegel of Akron and Lucy Shelley of Lititz, friends from their high school years at Warwick, have been playing bingo since they were about 18. Shelley’s grandma, mom and her sisters would go to bingo, and she and Miegel started going along to Saint James Church in Lititz. Miegel once won a Hershey Spa gift certificate and Shelley won $400 in cash. Now in their 20s, it is still something they enjoy doing together.

Tammy Jumbelick of Denver sits with her good luck charm that she always brings to bingo with her, a gray-haired troll.

Tammy Jumbelick of Denver sits with her good luck charm that she always brings to bingo with her, a gray-haired troll.

Not everyone leaves bingo up to chance. Around the room, some women sit with little charms spread out on the table in front of their bingo cards. These charms are to bring them good luck during the game. Bobbie Dissinger of Ephrata sat with her good luck troll, his tie dye hair sticking up and a t-shirt that reads, “Lucky bingo troll.” At another table Tammy Jumbelick of Denver has her good luck troll, which she got for her 40th birthday. Hers wears a t-shirt that says, “Life begins at 40,” and the troll has gray hair.

Whether you’re playing for fun or playing to win, one last thing to remember about bingo is: you have to be loud in a room with that many people.

“If that’s a bingo, you better yell louder than that,” said bingo announcer Aaron Murray to a shy player.

Akron Fire Company hosts three to four bingos a year, and Leisey and her mom Karen, a volunteer for over 20 years, take turns organizing the bingo events. The next one will be in March. Bingos are the biggest fund raisers that they do.

There are many other bingos in the area, such as Tuesday nights in Brickerville and Monday nights at Saint James Catholic Church in Lititz. Frequent bingo-goers recommend checking the Shopping News for upcoming games.

Lenay Ruhl is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at lenay.ruhl@gmail.com.

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