Bingo, the Gentle Madness

(Dorian Issock, 2010) Beano. Bingo. It’s all the same, really.

The original markers used in the game known today as bingo were beans, and rather appropriately, the game’s original name was beano. In the 1930s, someone–in a fit of excitement, no doubt–managed to call it out wrong after winning a game. The new name, having a nice ring, stuck, and Bingo was born.

In Las Vegas, the land of shimmering lights and glimmering glamour, one-upmanship is the order of the day. Despite this tough economy, “bigger and better” hotels keep getting built; massive, awe-inspiring city projects get approved; and it seems everyone’s looking for the next best, new-fangled thing. Most recently, this unique city held the grand opening of the new, ultra-cool Cosmopolitan Hotel, a property that’s gotten a lot of recent press for its much-rumored innovative take on traditional blackjack. Turns out the 6:5 payout for blackjack games that lit up message boards was much ado about nothing (it only applies to single deck games), but I digress; the point is, innovation reigns in this town.

No matter the irresistible appeal of attempting to create something new in Las Vegas, there’s an apparently even greater appeal found in bingo, as evidenced by the game’s longevity. Having survived one Great Depression–and certain to last through this nation’s latest economic downturn–this game clearly isn’t just a fad that’s going away soon.

Oh no, baby, this one’s got legs.

So what’s its appeal? How does a simple game like bingo, a game that requires nothing more than matching numbers that are called out after correspondingly numbered balls are sucked out of a large receptacle, survive, indeed thrive, in these modern times?

Obviously, there was only one way to find out.

Filled with curiosity, I decided to take one for the team. I made my way to the bingo parlor at Palace Station, thinking I’d find a roomful of blue-haired, matron-like ladies ready to trounce all over this bingo newbie as soon as I was in sight. I was surprised (and possibly even a little disappointed) to find that today’s bingo players are much younger and less aggressive than I expected. As we settled down with game cards and daub markers in hand, an eerie calm blanketed the room, a quiet that strangely sustained itself throughout much of the first game, a silence only interrupted by the droning, dulcet tones of the announcer’s calls. The loudest moment of the first game? An almost embarrassed utterance coming from a thirty-something man, when he half-whispered “Bingo” after realizing that he had won.

The group of other players accepted their collective loss much more enthusiastically than I expected. Some even congratulated the winner.

After that unexpectedly underwhelming climax, I quickly gathered my thoughts. All in all, bingo was a much more civilized game than I expected. And really simple to play.

Hmmmmm? Wait just a minute….

Could simplicity be the key to it all?

In the US during the ’30s, money was scarce. It stands to reason that a simple, entertaining game that cost nothing but beans to play would catch on. History’s on repeat: times are tough now–and I for one have sadly weaned myself off of those Las Vegas high roller tables that I used to love so much long ago. Fiscally, a cheap game of bingo makes perfect sense today.

But aside from its financial merits, it’s the game’s innate simplicity that gives bingo its staying power. Clearly, there’s a large segment of the population that would rather tune out and turn to entertainment that doesn’t require a PhD in advanced card counting techniques, or a degree in group psychology. Sometimes, it’s nice to just drift into simpler times, where the livin’ is easy, and matching numbered balls with patterned game cards is even easier. Like slots–but in the long run, a whole lot cheaper–bingo is a game that doesn’t require any degree of strategic thinking. You just listen and daub, listen and daub. And the unmistakable and immediate sense of community that’s felt when playing live bingo is kind of nice, too.

The game couldn’t be easier to play–which was one of the biggest factors in my deciding to stick around to play a few more rounds. Truth be told, I didn’t want to leave until I won my first bingo game.

Seven games later and a few beans lighter, I finally got my wish. And the feeling that I felt when I realized that I had won was pretty illuminating: this bingo newbie surprisingly felt a quiet, almost meek pride begin to swell from being picked out of a roomful of bingo aficionados. Only later would I realize that part of bingo’s enduring charm is that it’s accessible to everyone: it’s an equal opportunity lover, anyone can win.

For now though, swept up by my win, my bingo yell was a solid four decibels louder than the previous winner, causing the losing player closest to me to look up sharply when she heard me shout. She may have even nervously scrunched away from me by a few inches, but in my excitement, I can’t be 100% sure.

I’ll admit that prior to my experience playing my series of games at Palace Station (originally the Bingo Palace), the appeal of bingo was baffling to me. Following my bingo win, however, the game’s long-lasting appeal became clear. Simple, accessible, cheap and entertaining–in these tough times, what more could you want from a game?

Dorian Issock
Photo by kees jonker (originally posted to Flickr as bingo) via Wikimedia Commons

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Once upon a time, environmentalists lived in the forests, while the many of the rest of us moved the suburbs to be near the forests. Today we’re on our way back. Living near nature is an attractive notion, but many who tried it found nature soon vanished and they were left isolated. For both environmental and social reasons, living in the suburbs or the forest is not sustainable. Today we know cities are good for people and for forests. We know that the less land each of us occupies, the more space there will be for nature. In a city, we have a smaller footprint. Living in a city isn’t only good for the planet, it’s good for all of us. When home, work, shopping end entertainment are close, it encourages walking and promotes the active lifestyle that keeps us healthy. The New Colonist is about moving in from the suburbs, moving into and reclaiming towns and cities that have been depopulated, and building more housing in healthy cities. It’s about building smarter and closer-in new developments; building transit-oriented, mixed-use developments in new communities, and bringing more transportation options to communities where a car is presently the only option. Sustainable city living–chronicling the return from the suburban diaspora–is the focus of …Move In. City Life is good for you. It’s good for the your health. It’s good for the planet. Eric Miller Richard Risemberg