Bingo halls are miserable utopias of morbidly obese chainsmokers, crumpling papers, dirty looks, grease, drugged up old people, kindly eccentrics who are usually alone, and a rainbow of dabbers. Many have begun to implement the use of tiny computers which are cheap to rent and can load hundreds of bingo cards for you, making the game as effortless as pressing a single button 5 or 6 times. It’s ruining the magic.
The hall is now peppered with assholes who buy these machines, load up a bajillion cards, and sit back to read a newspaper while the game ensues. It destroys the chances for card-users to win — the person willing to simply invest the most money on electronic cards will probably win the jackpot. Poor people are f*cked.
It also takes the fun out of frantically dabbing your paper after each number is called.
The first time I went, I got two sheets of 12 cards each. An older couple sat across from us, chainsmoking and giving us expert tips on the game. They stabbed one another with their dabbers between numbers, mumbling playful insults. The man was cockeyed and, seeing my friend squirming with excitement, accused him of being ‘wired’ in the enthusiastic manner used by drug users to show approval to other drug users.
They were the type of friends you hope to make at the bingo hall. Interesting, eccentric, and expert bingo players. “We come here almost every day,” they told me on the way out, “so if you come back and sit at a different table, we’ll know why.”
But I didn’t sit at a different table. I came back and sat at the same table. They didn’t show up that night, much to my disappointment. The second time, we got three cards each. By the end of five straight hours of bingo, my brain was about to explode. You get about thirty seconds between numbers — long for those with one sheet of 12 cards, but a blip to those with almost 40 in total.
Despite the nearly 80 cards between us, we lost miserably. There were one or two rounds where we were only a number or two away from winning $750, only to have our dreams crushed by a computer-wielding jerk (usually in the lame non-smoking section). The computers always won. Always.
When we left, we had a sad little photoshoot outside the door. A ranger approached us.
“I’m gonna need to see all those cards,” he demanded, “you’re not allowed to leave the bingo hall with unmarked cards.”
Bingo halls are very serious about pretending that the game isn’t gambling. You can’t bring the cards home to gamble with your friends. They make loudspeaker announcements to outlaw gambling in the hall, while a secret slot machine room hides in the back beneath a neon sign that reads “Game Room.”
I visited the bingo hall a third time. Since my favorite couple was, again, nowhere to be seen, I chose the nonsmoking section where I could actually breathe.
A kind, lonely old woman helped my bing-capable friend pick out all the numbers he missed every round. She was fast, finishing her own card in seconds and then examining his upside down.
Before the second round started, an electrical shortage caused half of the televisions in the place to turn off, thus preventing many players from seeing the next number seconds before it was actually called.
Cries of “The TV is out!” resulted in annoyed yelps of “I KNOW THE TELEVISIONS ARE OUT!” from bingo employees frantically trying to distribute scratch-off mini games while fixing the problem.
And a smug-looking guy with a computer won the jackpot.