The Unspoken Side of Casino BINGO – Leslie Angelica Marquez – Medium
Uncovering the stereotyped experience
The tall woman in front of me groans with frustration as the line stays stagnant. She jerks a look back toward the rest of us behind her, as if to see if anyone else can relate to her inconvenience.
The numbers are already being called.
She swears under her breath, silently, but loud enough to know she’s heard. Finally, it’s her turn to be attended. I continue to wait and come to the realization that I too have become impatient.
The numbers have been called for about 10 minutes now.
I shift my focus from the contagious frustration and think about the fact that I have no idea how to play. It’s finally my turn to be helped. I ask the cashier what I should expect once I step through the big wooden doors. She doesn’t answer my question, but instead proceeds to show me a sheet of empty squares and tells me dabbers are available for purchase in the store in the back. I suppose I will figure this out on my own.
I hand her my cash and hurry to the tiny store. I see a big wall of dabbers. All sorts of colors; I have too many options. In desperate need to save time I choose the one at eye level, I guess I’m taking the orange one.
I turn to enter the hall through two large dark wooden doors that are propped open. I instantly inhale the smell of old cigarettes in the air. Although I see signs on the beige walls that read “no smoking,” the smell is heavy and lingers. I stop and realize I am among over 300 participants. I didn’t realize I’d be amongst so many people. I’m looking for an empty seat and find one between a couple and a group of women. I shuffle through my cards to try to keep up with the man calling out letters and numbers. “N26!” I have absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.
The couple next to me must have noticed that it was my first time playing bingo at the Casino. How did they notice? Probably because of my wandering gaze, the kind of look you have when you’re taking it all in.
The couple consists of an older gentleman, I’d guess around 70 years of age, and a younger woman, probably around 40 years old. He smiles at me and I smile back. He looks at me again and with a smirk he says, “First time huh,” I can’t tell if he is asking or making a statement. I shyly reply, “yeah, first time playing bingo.” He nods as though to confirm his suspicions.
He leans over the long plastic table and starts explaining the game. He checked in every once in a while, to make sure I was still doing alright. I think it is kind of someone to show empathy in a situation where one is competing against others for a prize, especially money.
I wonder what brings the couple in tonight. They seem at peace with each other’s company amidst the game. I occasionally glimpse over at them, noticing how they smile at each other while having their conversations. They’re sharing one card, both keeping track of the spots called. Could this be their date night? Maybe they’ve made it a tradition of coming? Perhaps they just really enjoy bingo.
I look around and begin to wonder what brings the rest of the crowd here on a Sunday night. There are people of all ages, over 18 of course. It seems as though every cluster of people is having their own, different experience, all while doing the same thing as everyone else.
I suppose the possibilities are endless as to why people come here. According to the Global Gaming Business Magazine, “bingo was designed for the pace of leisure, the cause of community fund-raising and the social interaction of neighbors.” I sense a strong atmosphere of community in this hall. Just about everyone is invested in the game and their conversations. Social interactions are utmost, especially with the lady group next to me.
The ladies are quite rowdy. Sure seems like they are having a great time, as their laughs are high pitched and enthusiastic. They have an entire picnic laid out in the midst of them consisting of various chips, trail mix, and what looks like homemade goodies. I really should have brought snacks. Although, I thought the Bingo Hall Rules stated “no carry-ins” were allowed. They chat about the latest gossip of their lives. I try not to listen, but their conversations are loud and frankly unavoidable. I do notice however, that each lady is very focused on their card.
Though a small commotion next to me, the hall itself is very quiet. I can hear people’s heavy breathing, the rustling of their sheets in front of them, and every sniffle and clearing of a throat.
I become anxious and filled with adrenaline attempting to keep up with the announcer’s pace. “B20!” I had no idea bingo was, “G12,” so fast. I guess I expected the stereotypical setting of elderly women portrayed in films playing with too much patience. I begin to wonder how bingo actually came to be. Bingo.org explains that bingo actually originated in Italy, later made known to the United States. Similar to today, “Players had cards with rows, and winning numbers were pulled from a sack as players scrambled to match their numbers first, revealing the winners and losers.”
However, according to Andrew Nackton, “the image of bingo has been changing dramatically in recent years, and the under 30’s are now shunning such stereotypes and embracing bingo for [a] fun, lively and tradition-rich game.” Here, there is a pool of diversity, people of varying ages, ethnicities, and seeming statuses attending this bingo session.
As I look around the hall, it is clear that the imagery of the game I once held in my mind is anything but current. Sure, there’s some older ladies here, but the majority of people around me are quite young. However, casino bingo isn’t the first activity that comes to my mind when hanging out with friends. I wonder why that is. I wonder what caused bingo to stay in oblivion to newer generations.
We finally get an intermission. I take this time to ask the couple to my right what had brought them in tonight. They answer enthusiastically, that they love to have date night here once in a while. I suppose I guessed right. They mention that they don’t come often, but it’s exciting to come and potentially walk out with a cash prize. The group of ladies expressed how they gather every month with each other here to spend time as friends, to catch up and get away from their children and husbands for a while. I guess I never considered this as a girl’s night option. I’ll be keeping that in mind.
I finally feel as though I’m getting the hang of the game. I’m invested at this point, adopting others’ reactions and possible emotions. As soon as someone yells “bingo,” the hall is filled with groans of disappointment. I join along, at first intentionally, then naturally.
As three hours come to an end, I realize a few things. I had no idea bingo was practically a sport, and that I really should have brought snacks. I hadn’t expected bingo to be as intense and much less take three hours, however, time did go by fast. Next thing I know, we are on our last game.
The game is finished, and I stay and chat with the couple that had been so kind to me. They told me of tricks and tips of the game for next time. They said bingo really relaxes them and distracts them for a while. It was interesting to me how although I felt anxiety throughout the game, they felt relaxed. It must have been the shock I experienced, derailing the image I held in my mind of what bingo was like.
Seeing this activity through a now experienced lens, I am astonished of the difference between what many might think bingo is like. I wonder of what the future holds for a game that has not only stood the test of time but has evolved with it. As Matt Joseph emphasizes, “online bingo popularity has skyrocketed thanks to the Internet. Now players can try their hand at the game while having fun and winning cash 24 hours a day.” Who knows how bingo may differ in years to come.
Every experience is different, but one can only find out for themselves what they will experience here.
My participation playing bingo has made me wonder what other activities I have also missed out on, simply because of preconceived notions I have of them. I wonder what experience I will open to next, if I just keep an open mind.