Bingo Is A Hit with Seniors

Pick any weekday, and there's probably a bingo game going on at a VFW post or a park district hall in DuPage County.

Drive a few miles, and you can find bingo games in casinos. Church groups sponsor bingo games as fund-raisers. Teachers use bingo to drill kids in foreign languages and history and even American composers.

There's even a travel game called Roadkill Bingo.

How did this simple matching game become a part of everyday American life?

For one thing, it's fun.

At the West Chicago Park District, seniors get together once a month to mark off those cards.

"It's just an afternoon planned around enjoying the company of friends," said district employee Norene Treudt.

Bingo began in 1530 as an Italian lottery game, and metamorphosed into what we know as bingo in the 1700s. Educational uses of the game aren't new - according to American Bingo and Gaming, lotto-style bingo games were used in 19th-century Germany to teach children their multiplication tables.

As in all games of chance, mathematics and probability are a big part of the game. The game of bingoAmericans know was developed from a 1920s carnival game called Beano.

Then Edwin Lowe, a New York toy salesman, changed the name and persuaded Columbia University math professor Carl Leffler to expand the number of possible combinations. Leffler managed to come up with 6,000 non-repeating number groups, and bingo as big business was born.

Today, bingo supplier Stuart Manufacturing prints 44 billion bingo cards a year, as well as video and casino bingo games.

That's not counting the number of educational bingo games created every year, or even Creative Creations' Roadkill Bingo.

Instead of numbers, the Colorado company's card sports an assortment of animate and inanimate roadside debris: skunks, shoes, tires, rabbits, raccoons, birds and URK (unidentified roadkill). Instead of callers, it's up to the driver and passengers to spot the items that will fill in a row.

For most local games, plain old numbers do nicely, thank you.

Seniors make up most of the bingo crowds in local games, and for all the lore about superstitious players and competition, the meetings have less to do with gambling than socializing.

For example, the Lisle Park District's Monday bingo runs from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., and is followed by lunch.

Because many seniors may be without transportation, district volunteers pick up players at their doorstep and drive them home again for $2.

"They can stay for lunch or we'll take them right back home after the game - whatever they want," said an employee.

Some senior games are free, and some charge a small fee for a card. Some games offer cash prizes, and some, like West Chicago, offer small seasonal gifts.

Whatever the reward, the appeal of bingo doesn't seem to have changed much in the last 450 years.

"It's just a fun activity," Treudt said.

 

Labunski, Carla. "Bingo lovers keep halls filled all over DuPage.(Neighbor)." Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL). Paddock Publications, Inc. 1998. HighBeam Research. 28 Feb. 2011 <http://www.highbeam.com>.

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