Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer|
Bill Livingston of Decatur has been calling bingo for a few years at the Decatur Disabled Veterans bingo hall. The commander says people who come to bingo like him, so he sees no reason to get a new caller. On average, bingo draws 100 to 200 people each night. Three-hour bingo sessions are offered locally every night of the week except Sunday.
A hobby, addiction or passion — whatever you call it, local people are devoted to shouting one word — bingo!
By Danielle Komis Palmer
On a recent Thursday evening, men and women, black and white, young and old all flocked to an inconspicuous building cozied up to the railroad tracks. Security guards — mostly men in their 70s, wearing tattered Disabled American Veterans caps — stand outside and eye the parking lot already filled with vehicles.
Inside, cigarette smoke swirls around a dimly lit, wood-paneled room. The crowd of more than 100 people sits at long wooden tables, bright containers perched on the tables next to them, as well as photographs of their children or grandchildren. Few chairs are empty.
To hit the $1,000 jackpot, or at least one of the smaller $50 ones. And they can snatch up the cash by calling out the coveted word that keeps ’em coming back night after night — bingo.
Teresa Poff of Decatur glances at the bingo board as she plays about 30 cards each round. “They say just old women play bingo but younger people are getting into it because they can win money,” she said. So many different people can learn to love bingo because it’s easy to play and it takes place in a positive environment, said Price Owens, bingo chairman for the Decatur DAV.
“There’s nothing to do around here. Nothing but go to church, play bingo and go shopping,” said Decatur bingo veteran Pat Burgess, who comes almost every night to one of the many three-hour bingo sessions offered locally every night of the week except Sunday.
Burgess minimizes how seriously some locals take this hobby, addiction or passion — whatever one might call the game that cultivates a devoted following. With Tunica and its glittering casinos nearly four hours away, local bingo halls are the only place for locals to throw down some cash and legally gamble the night away.
“If they shut Bingo down, there’s nothing to do around here,” said veteran player Juanita Taylor of Decatur. “It’s a form of relaxation for us.”
J.J. Johnson of Decatur agreed.
“It gives everybody something to do,” he said. “You feel comfortable around people here.”
On average, bingo draws 100 to 200 people each night.
A serious crowd
Once the bingo caller starts calling the letter-number combinations at 6:30 p.m. sharp, the room falls quiet except for the sound of the numbered balls knocking around in the air chamber and colorful dabbers hitting paper (dabbers are markers specifically designed for bingo).
Some players play with as many as 30 bingo cards at a time, their hands moving quickly and methodically up and down the rows as they quickly dot the squares. Players typically spend $30 to $60 each night on bingo cards.
Bingo workers eye the crowd anxiously and quickly run to players who throw their hand up and yell “bingo!”
Pat Burgess of Moulton uses colorful dabbers to mark numbers off her Bingo cards at the Elks Lodge in Decatur. Dabbers are markers specifically designed for Bingo. She recently split the $1,000 jackpot at the DAV on Finley Avenue.
There is little fanfare with each win and players quickly tear off their bingo cards, glance at the display board that shows what game type is up next, and ready themselves for another round.
“It relaxes you and stresses you out. There are so many emotions in bingo,” said Veronica Linhart, a former casino card dealer who recently moved from Texas to Decatur. “It’s up, down, up, down.”
Her mother, Ellen Kloep of Decatur, however, is less emotionally invested in the game.
“I just come in to get out of the house,” she said, shrugging.
Mondays, Tuesdays ...
Bingo will indeed pull you out of the house — all the time, if you let it.
On Mondays, the Decatur Elks Lodge hosts it, the Knights of Columbus on Tuesdays, and the Decatur Veterans of Foreign Wars on Wednesdays, and so on. While the hosts and venues change, every night is nearly identical to the next because the rules are the same at each place. Local bingo halls have been regulated by city and state law since bingo was legalized in Decatur in 1997, two years after many of the local halls were shut down for operating illegally.
Through bingo, groups such as the DAV and American Legion raise thousands of dollars each year for their groups as well as for outside charities. By law, they must give 51 percent of profits to outside charities.
According to one bingo veteran who didn’t want to give her name, bingo had bigger payoffs and was more interesting before it was also legalized in her hometown in Mississippi, where she recently lived.
“It was a lot more fun when it wasn’t legal,” she said.
Bingo was in its glory days when you could still choose your card based on your favorite numbers, and when the musical sound of the magnetic chips sliding off the bingo cards was heard throughout the halls, she and another bingo veteran agreed.
The paper cards that you buy and throw away in today’s games just don’t bring the same excitement to the game as the old cards did, the two old-timers said.
Bingo vets and newbies
Younger bingo players will never know. Twenty-three-year-old Misty Ricks discovered bingo a few years ago when her grandmother invited her to come.
She is now a big fan of the game, and she’s certainly not the only young person who is. More and more young people have started showing up in recent years, romanced by the allure of the cash prizes, she said.
Teresa Poff of Decatur said she’s also noticed the recent increase.
“They say just old women play bingo but younger people are getting into it because they can win money,” she said.
So many different people can learn to love bingo because it’s easy to play and it takes place in a positive environment, said Price Owens, bingo chairman for the Decatur DAV.
“Once you come and see what an enjoyable night it is, people really enjoy it. They get to meet their neighbors and get acquainted with everybody there. It’s just a real good group of people.”
Monday, 6:30 p.m.,
Decatur Elks Lodge
Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.,
Knights of Columbus Hall
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., Decatur Veterans of Foreign Wars
Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Disabled American Veterans
Friday, 6:30-10:30 p.m., Falkville Veterans of Foreign Wars
Saturday, 6:30-9:30 p.m.,
Hartselle American Legion
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