Bingo In The Blood
November 28, 2010 2:15 PM   Subscribe

The NY Times explores the darker side of bingo.
posted by reenum (45 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Eagerly anticipating Tim Powers' Last Call 2: Pay the King.
posted by SPrintF at 2:27 PM on November 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

Incidental, but that's a very well-written article.
posted by cribcage at 2:37 PM on November 28, 2010

Bingo is infact a cover for an inter-dimensional alien cult gaining members among the elderly. The chant "BINGO!", said enough times triggers the exact audio vibratory tones to allow the being entrance to our world.

(waits patiently for Steven Moffat to call)
posted by The Whelk at 2:38 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this is a great article. And better bingo than slot machines. At least bingo is vaguely social. Watching old people playing slot machines is the most depressing thing ever. Particularly the folks who are wired into an oxygen canister (via canula) and the slot machine (via belt-clipped loyalty card). I mean, god bless 'em, and I won't deny an adult their pleasure. It's just it doesn't look like pleasure.

At least World of Warcraft only costs $15 / month.
posted by Nelson at 2:39 PM on November 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

Trouble with the darker side of bingo is you can't read the numbers properly, especially with these new bifocals.
That is some good writing, though I thought it was a little ungallant to spill the beans of the taxi driver bloke's little self-inflation - maybe it was his own joke.
posted by Abiezer at 2:44 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

BINGO is a friendly game of chance, but still brings out the the true thrill of winning and the bad rush of losing or pushing in the game. not like 21 card game,"blackjack", where there is losing or winning feelings,
most of us gamblers have
posted by tustinrick at 2:45 PM on November 28, 2010

How do you make a sweet little old lady shout, "FUCK!"

Get another sweet little old lady to shout, "BINGO!"
posted by cmyk at 2:48 PM on November 28, 2010 [28 favorites]

Bingo is gambling. Who knew?
posted by localroger at 2:54 PM on November 28, 2010

A man named Adam Sandler owns it. He inherited it from his father (they are not related to the actor), who ran a welding company and began hosting bingo games in 1961 at a hall down the street.

There is rom-com plot in there somewhere.

He was a lovable loser who rented out a Bingo hall.
She was a favorite niece taking care of her elderly Bingo-addicted aunt.
When their eyes met, it was BINGO!
Coming soon to a cinema near you... Love By Numbers.

posted by vidur at 3:03 PM on November 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

While I'm in no way suggesting that little old ladies cannot be beguiled by the Dark Arts, I don't think that this article delivers an exploration of the dark side of Bingo. I'm not actually sure Bingo has a dark side - it's not run by the mob, nobody ever dopes the caller, and there are no bookies giving long odds on specific bingo numbers.

In other words, it's nothing like competitive shuffle board.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

My conservative grandmother would take me to play bingo at her country club when i was 7-10 years old. The one time I finally get a bingo ,after bolting out of my chair and screaming "BINGO MUTHAFUCKAZ!*", I forgot that it was a blackout round, where you had to get every number on your card to win. I brought great shame to the family.

*Actually I just stood and said bingo.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:17 PM on November 28, 2010

I have played Bingo. I have run Bingo games.

There is no dark side to Bingo. It is exactly, precisely as boring as it seems.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:19 PM on November 28, 2010 [9 favorites]

(waits patiently for Steven Moffat to call)

That's more of an RTD plot line.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:19 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

It was a priest in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who recognized the game’s power to help his ailing church. Trouble was, there were just 24 unique cards at the time, so too many people were winning. The priest pressed upon Mr. Lowe the need for vaster possibilities of losing. Mr. Lowe enlisted a Columbia math professor named Carl Leffler, who configured more than 6,000 different bingo cards.

All those combinations took a mighty toll. He is said to have gone mad.

posted by rifflesby at 3:27 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no dark side to Bingo. It is exactly, precisely as boring as it seems.

Ehhh, I think it's more of a banal dark side. You have a bunch of people on restricted incomes, some of whom can't afford to be gambling, throwing their money down away on something that they are almost guaranteed to lose because of the addictive nature of carefully meted rewards and punishments. This goes to charities that should be funded through smart allocation of tax money instead of a regressive tax on the bored, mathematically inept, and desperate. That's really depressing and dark, to me at least. Not quite so much as casino slots, but it's up there.

I enjoyed the article. I think it portrays the absurdity of Bingo pretty well, in between the futile nature, the magical thinking, and the almost religious way that people buy / mark cards.
posted by codacorolla at 3:29 PM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

Tagged: deception? Oh brother, what else would/should old people do all day?
posted by peppito at 3:37 PM on November 28, 2010

My father and late stepmother would actually plan trips around where there were bingo halls. They were convinced that they were making money so I convinced them to keep track for a year to see. They quit keeping track about May, said it took all the fun out.
posted by tamitang at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Clearly none of y'all have played bingo with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:43 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

"She can’t explain the logic, because there is no logic."

I love these people.
posted by hermitosis at 3:48 PM on November 28, 2010

I love bingo. My mom's whole family are horrible addicts, and going with my mom to late-night bingo was the only time I was ever allowed to stay up past midnight when I was little. My little brother and I used to sit under the tables and create pictures with all the different colored bingo daubers. For the longest time my brother could only count up to 75 because that was as high as the bingo numbers went. I won $200 on one of the electronic machines when I was in sixth grade and used the money to buy a guitar (I don't play anymore, but I still have it!).

But I haven't played bingo in about 6 years because I'm in the middle of a self-imposed exile after the absolute worst night of drinking of my entire life. My friends and I were young and in our first year of real drinking. I'd scored a bottle of tequila and a bottle of peach schnapps, and we mixed it with orange juice up in giant Nalgene bottles. We hung out at the park for a few hours, but it was early January and insanely cold so we decided to move on pretty quickly. We tried bowling, but it was a Saturday night and the place was packed so that wasn't going to happen. I looked over at the building next door, and there was the Bingo Planet.

My friends had never been, and in my drunken state I absolutely could not let that stand. We stumbled over, but we'd just missed the 8:30 game and would have to wait 'til the midnight one (which actually started at 10:30.) Two hours to kill, so we went back to the car and drank. And drank.

I'd never been seriously drunk before, and I thought I was feeling pretty good in the backseat of the car squished between three other people. The second we poured ourselves out of the car, though, the whole world luuuurched and I knew I was in trouble. But damned if I was going to be the first person in our group to call uncle, so I followed them into the building, bought some cards and a dauber, and crumpled into the first chair I saw.

My last real memory is of the intermission, when I stumbled up to buy a soda in hopes that that would settle my stomach. Then I think I sat back down at the table and passed out. Somehow, I made it through the rest of the game. Until it came time to move me. My friend grabbed my arm and tried to help me stand up, and that was that. I managed to get to the trash can before I threw up everything I'd ever eaten. 4 of my 5 friends bailed immediately and ran towards the car. My friend that stayed says while she was holding my hair a few old women came by and asked if I was okay. She finally dragged me back to the car, where I puked continuously the entire way home. The kicked me out in front of my parents' house, handed me the empty tequila bottle, and sped off.

I stumbled inside and up to my room. At 4 a.m. I woke up and desperately needed water, so I snuck into the bathroom. When I turned on the light I almost screamed, because every inch of me was covered in bright spots. Pink, red, green, blue, purple all over me. All over my hands, up my arms, and across my face. I looked like someone from a children's book. I'd developed some kind of allergic reaction to alcohol, and now I was going to die. Telling my parents would do no good because they'd kill me for drinking, so I was dead no matter what. I went back to bed.

The next morning, surprisingly not-dead, I got a better look at myself. Apparently, after I'd passed out at the Bingo Planet my friends tried to see if I was awake by poking me with their daubers. And when I didn't react I was fair game for the next 45 minutes. It took half an hour in the shower to wash everything off. I found spots that I'd missed for the next 2 weeks. My parents never said anything about it beyond a small jab on my next birthday about tequila, but I don't think they ever knew the full indignity of what had happened.

I haven't played bingo since. Someday hopefully I'll rejoin the bingo fold, but I'm terrified someone will recognize me. I'm utterly terrified that they have a picture of me from the security feeds, multicolored and puking all over the place, hung up right next to the registers with all the bad checks along a giant sign that says "ARREST ON SIGHT" because I ruined the hallowed Midnight Bingo. I figure waiting another decade or so will put me in the clear because then all the old ladies will be dead. But I imagine I provided quite a lot of amusement to all the bingo lifers, and maybe terrified the hell out of one of the 5-year-olds sitting under the table like I used to.
posted by lilac girl at 3:59 PM on November 28, 2010 [105 favorites]

Back in the 80s, my late father spotted an opportunity in his Catholic parish, when the person running the bingo operation mysteriously slipped into obscurity. The parish priest, he found, was quite irate when it was realized the reason the operation had trouble turning a profit was because the mysteriously absent parishoner formerly in charge. So here comes my father, old grifter from way back, to the rescue. And rescue he did, realizing all he had to do was show a reasonable profit for the church. And so he did. Pastor was happy as a clam, and so was my Dad, who could easily skim oodles of money as long as long as the pastor was hoodwinked by his charm and and a steady flow of money.

I never knew the particulars, as I was just out of the house, living in another state. And I didn't want to know. But I do remember all of a sudden family and friends being recipients some relatively extravagant gifts. When I visited once, I saw the operation, to find my dad was good at charming those gravelly voiced, foul mouthed, pink haired, chain smoking old ladies away from their money. Though that wasn't a difficult job, as those patrons all seemed thoroughly bitten by the gambling bug.

The gravy train lasted a couple years. I think the parish priest began to get suspicious, and involved another, more trusted person to coordinate the operation. Two people were now running things, one not prone to the lure of the grift. Eventually, my father moved on, seemingly without any disgrace (it's my Mom's parish to this day). He was lucky to have such a good run. Hell, he was lucky to not end up in jail. But just the little bit I saw left me with the impression that bingo certainly has a dark side. And if not, is certainly quite susceptible.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:16 PM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

(waits patiently for Steven Moffat to call)

That's more of an RTD plot line.

Sigh. Fine


The Bingo storyline is a side-line to a larger theme which appears in the first few episodes and later becomes the main story: Something is Fucking With Probability. You can even have some fun Stoppard-coin flipping and gambling effects. Other basic laws of timespace are being tweaked as well, the speed of light soars for a few weeks in 2309 or ..something On another planet, water doesn't become lighter when frozen, dooming a water-world colony. Anyway, The Doctor figures out something *thing* is trying to communicate with him from a very very strange area of Unspace, the unrendered void between the worlds. Nothing should be able to survive there, well, nothing good. Anyway turns out his efforts to discover this being are being thwarted by River Song, who is apparently undercover from some larger spooky agency to prevent The Doctor from contacting this being. Convinced River is not working in his best interests and ragingly curious to find out about this NEW thing, a being that can exist in the Unspace AND screw with basic laws, a thing that seems to want to destroy him and chat with him in equal measure, the first really *new* thing in a long, long time, The Doctor rages on anyway until another character, also part of Spooky Conspiracy, tells him what the being is.

It's Him, in the far future, the last thing living after an event so horrible it erased itself from memory. You could ret-con away a lot of plotholes in the past as this Other Doctor attempting and failing to use spacetime as a medium of communication. Well okay, if it's The Doctor in the far future, why is he trying to break things?

Cause apparently this incarnation of the Doctor went mad and is now trying to destroy his previous incarnations. Oh and he can't be reached, cause entering Unspace is impossible and dangerous beyond words. Oh and he's getting more powerful, for some reason, and reality continues to warp.


(this was inspired by seeing a young man in a tartan bow-tie, THE VERY SPACE TARTAN BOW TIE I WAS CONSIDERING BUYING at the market, asking very detailed questions about naval timepieces. I spent so much trying to figure out how to ask him where's the Big Blue Box that I lost him in the crowd. Pity that .)
posted by The Whelk at 4:21 PM on November 28, 2010 [13 favorites]

Metafilter: an analgesic for the yawning emptiness of old age.
posted by usonian at 4:23 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cause apparently this incarnation of the Doctor went mad and is now trying to destroy his previous incarnations.

It's been done. ;-)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 4:33 PM on November 28, 2010

The spam I was getting on my blog for bingo supplies really had me puzzled but now it's all a bit clearer.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:39 PM on November 28, 2010

It's been done. ;-)

I was going more Planescape: Torment but sigh
posted by The Whelk at 4:40 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

MY s.o.'s ex wife inherited a house from her Grandmother in the 1980's. This windfall was a God-send and everyone was pleased about it (everyone!) was a small but well built house with tons of charm. Unfortunately, the inheritance came during the exe's "bingo" period and unbelievably, the ex lost the entire house in gambling debts (she only had it for about one year)! THAT was bingo's dark side and I half expected to see ex's story within this story. Eventually the ex stopped the madness, but she is in her 50's now and never really re-couped her losses...she's been living in apartments ever since.
posted by naplesyellow at 5:00 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I worked at a bingo hall in college. Those people take it VERY seriously... I have zero interest in gambling, so it was the perfect job - mindless, easy and well paid.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:12 PM on November 28, 2010

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that bingo is not gambling. Of course it is. It shares all the issues of other forms of low-entry gambling (slot machines, lottery tickets). But it doesn't have the dark side of game fixing, violence and drugs that come with many other forms of gambling, is all.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:35 PM on November 28, 2010

Haha same thing happened to me at about 10 years old. Called bingo when I didn't exactly have it. They never took me to bingo again.

Slots are vaguely social. They may spend hours at one machine but they meet up when switching machines and spend hours discussing machines, wins, etc. I say this as the odd penny slot afficionado under 40. I won 90$ on one spin this weekend . My biggest penny slot win ever!
posted by Ad hominem at 5:43 PM on November 28, 2010

I was going more Planescape: Torment but sigh

posted by schmod at 5:57 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: From Bingo to Doctor Who to Planescape, and back in 30 comments.
posted by schmod at 5:58 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

The NY Times explores the darker side of bingo.

Old age can be the darker side of life.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:23 PM on November 28, 2010

Odd the things one comes across on the blue.

Adam Sandler, the owner of the bingo hall of the article, was once my building manager and his actions had an unexpected impact on my life. To a large extent, I think I'm responsible for the fact he left the building managing business and took over his dad's bingo hall.

Hassan, the man, at that time in 1992, who was the super of the building I live in here in Hell's Kitchen, went to be the manager of the bingo hall for Adam in Brooklyn and would tell me privately some of the unpleasant details of the goings on there, like how certain regulars at the bingo hall would routinely defecate on the floor and how people on social security was basically gambling away their survival money.

In 1992, Adam was the building manager for notorious NYC slumlord Fred Shalom's Empire Management (whose tenants - or former tenants such as myself- might refer to them as Vampire Management). A slow witted handyman, known at Empire Management as John-the-Turtle, came to repair a floorboard of my neighbor's apartment. John accidentally sawed through an old gas pipe. Rather than call Con Ed or turn off the gas, he polyurethaned the wood patch he made and left.

When the tenant got home, she called Hassan the super to say she and her kids smelled gas. Hassan, who was not especially a swift thinker himself, tried to convince the tenant it was just the smell of the polyurethane and lit a match to prove she was imagining things. Sure enough, there was a small explosion. The fire department came, nobody was badly injured but the gas was turned off for all 40 apartments until new gas lines could be installed in all apartments.

The installation of the gas was to have been immediate but month after month went by with no gas for all 40 apartments. Empire Management had been the landlord for some years by then and the well being of the building had rapidly declined. It got dirtier, more dangerous, all kinds of criminal people moved in, pimps, gun toting lunatics, a neighbor was stabbed upstairs. It was a mess. My neighbors came to me for advice because I speak a few languages and I ended up becoming a tenants' rights activist.

All the tenants were fed up not having gas to cook with for three months, exasperated by the expense of ordering all meals in. I wanted to know how gas pipes and the basic workings of a building function. So at the local tenants' rights center I took a "small building maintenance course", which was not what I expected it to be. It ended up being about how to run a boiler. Too embarrassed to leave once I'd sat down in class, I ended up eight weeks later with a boiler operator's certificate, the only degree I've ever gotten and which seemed like a hilariously useless document at the time.

Three months passed with no gas in the buildings. One day I called the plumbing company, trying to find out when they would install the new gas pipes. The receptionist whispered that a certain building manager wanted more of a kickback than the plumbers were willing to offer and if he only lowered his amount we tenants could have our gas pipes. So I called up Fred and told him his building manager was asking for too big a kickback. I had no idea that this is a major crime in the Big Real Estate world. In a fit of pique with me, and quite possibly fear that I might take some sort of legal action, Fred gave the building where I live to the bank, forfeiting his investment. Adam lost his job. And he then went to run his dad's bingo hall, taking Hassan the super with him.

When a new owner bought the buildings, I ended up being the building super for 5-1/2 years because I had that boiler certificate. I got to live rent free for those years, created a studio in the basement. Being a building super was life changing. I got to become a real, practical part of my neighborhood, to feel like I belong. I also weeded out the criminally dangerous tenants/neighbors with the help of the Tactical Narcotics Squad and the local police precinct, brought in great new tenants/neighbors from all over the world, organized the installation of a new boiler, basically renovated both buildings and got to participate in being part of the Hell's Kitchen community as it transitioned from crime infested slum to becoming a vibrantly more healthy neighborhood.
posted by nickyskye at 6:25 PM on November 28, 2010 [355 favorites]

I remember going to Catholic grade school and high school. BINGO was a huge moneymaker for us. It bought equipment for our athletic teams and put books in our library. The only price we students paid was eating lunch in the cafeteria the day after BINGO night. Imagine, if you can, the air in Don Draper's office. Now remove any remaining oxygen and replace it with stale cigarette smoke. Yeah, that bad.

I never worked BINGO night, but every year I dealt poker and sold beer tickets to drunk people at the church festival. Yeah, I have some huge problems with the church, but they did teach me how to party.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:19 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Regulators are now looking at all the city’s bingo halls to see that things are on the up and up.

By contrast, at another downtown bingo parlor, a little place that goes by the name "NYSE"...
posted by telstar at 9:12 PM on November 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

My soiree through San Francisco last year found me living in the Mission, a few doors down from the Knockout Lounge. My finances weren't looking very good at all, so the highlight of my week was basically Thursday night Bingo at the Knockout. The cards are free with a beverage and there's a lot of comedy, complete with real bingo machine and board. There are no cash prizes, blueheads or seediness, just the pleasure of participating in a community game where one man can get excited over winning a pair of Christmas-themed potholders.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:30 PM on November 28, 2010

The dark side of bingo.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:24 AM on November 29, 2010

See, I jumped from the front page to Nicky's comment, not having read the article, and kept thinking, "Geez, SNL pays so little that he has to be a building manager, too?"

(I've read it now.)
posted by Madamina at 7:38 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

That's an amazing story, nickyskye! I think it should be sidebarred!
posted by at 8:23 AM on November 29, 2010

I want to party with lilac girl.
posted by Eideteker at 10:28 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

My grandma claimed to have played bingo with the Yorkshire Ripper at the Mecca in York, about a year before he was caught. She said he was a nice young man who was too shy to call out when he won a line, so she did it for him.

I've never been able to confirm the story, but I hope it's dark enough for this thread.
posted by vickyverky at 1:19 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Eideteker, I can't go to any more bingo parlors but if there's a raucous sewing bee or knitting circle worth crashing count me in.
posted by lilac girl at 2:10 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I knew it was hiding something!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:26 AM on November 30, 2010

Just saw nickyskye's comment because it was sidebarred. That story needs to be made into a movie!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:44 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

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