For many Nashvillians, and for people all over the country, the game of Bingo is serious business. Forget about the simple game you might have played in elementary school. Today Bingo is a major source of revenue for state and local governments. And for many of those who play regularly, Bingo is much more than a game; it is a way of life.
Bingo is one of the most popular games in the world. In addition to providing a way to win extra cash (players can win up to $1000 just for covering all of the numbers on their playing card), it also provides a lively social environment. There is a tremendous amount of camaraderie among Bingo players. At a typical game, you may see players wheel in oxygen tanks, wheelchairs and walkers, just to spend a couple of hours with other players in a fun atmosphere. Many players cite the opportunity for socialization as one of their main reasons for playing the game.
Once a thriving business in Tennessee, Bingo has been illegal in the state since 1989, when a five-year sting operation brought about the convictions of 50 public officials due to various forms of corruption including cash-skimming and outright bribery. The feds ruined a perfectly good song by referring to the sting as “Operation Rocky Top”.
Even though it’s been illegal in Tennessee for more than 20 years, the game is now more popular among Tennesseans than ever before, most of whom make the pilgrimage over the state line to Kentucky where they can legally enjoy their pastime. In one bingo hall in Franklin, Kentucky, almost 90% of the players come from Tennessee.
For serious Bingo players the game is not just a hobby, it’s a passion. Between the promise of extra cash, and the lively social environment, Bingo provides an intoxicating experience that many players choose to participate in anywhere from once a week to five or six days a week for some.
Anita Jones (not her real name), an avid player who regularly travels across the state line to play Bingo says, “If anybody tells you it ain’t addictive-they’re lying.” Anita states that her marriage almost broke up because of her Bingo playing. She and her husband would argue when he found out how much money she was spending on Bingo. Anita started to play in secret, just to avoid conflict. “ I wouldn’t even tell my husband when I won.” she says.
Anita’s situation is not unusual. Many Bingo players have stories of broken marriages, lost friendships, and lost mortgages, because of their Bingo habit. But many people are willing to take the risk, because the adrenaline rush that accompanies the game is very difficult to give up for some, no matter what the cost.
Regarding the addictive nature of the game, another player, Carla Franks (not her real name, either) says: “I was borrowing money from my son, my daughter…I would use my rent money sometimes just to go play Bingo. And sometimes I would win it back that night!”
Many players take the game so seriously, that they have a series of rituals, good luck charms, and techniques that are employed to ensure their success. Some players will sit at the same place each time they play, even if someone else (a newbie, who doesn’t know any better) sits in their spot, they will ask them to move, just so they can occupy their “good luck place”. Many players will bring in trinkets; statuettes, fake money, stuffed animals, a can of Money Blessing Spray (yes, there is such a thing), or pictures of family members; and place them all around the table amongst their playing cards. Some people swear by these good luck charms. They are convinced that the little statue of Buddha, or the picture of their niece’s high school graduation brings them good luck for every game they play.
For those who haven’t played Bingo since second grade, it may seem strange that so many people flock to Bingo halls and spend massive amounts of time and money on such a simple game. But hardcore Bingo players are everywhere, and any one of them will tell you that the appeal of Bingo lies in the fun, the excitement, and most importantly, the promise of winning big.