In many respects, bingo halls are the “red-haired stepchildren” of casinos. They are a component of gaming operations, not necessarily because they are needed. Rather, because they occupy a unique niche in the world of gambling that has made them a mainstay for decades.
Bingo halls are quintessential social gathering locations, primarily in casino destinations that attract a local clientele and where repeat visitation is high. It’s a place where friends meet, interact, socialize, and celebrate on a regular basis to escape from the worries of the day.
Because of the very nature and interaction of the game, bingo took a hit during the Covid-19 crisis. Social distancing and bingo just don’t go together. Yet, in the wake of the end of the pandemic and a return to normal operations, the game is making a comeback.
According to the 2022 report compiled by the Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research from the university libraries at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2021 was by far the most profitable year for casino bingo in Nevada.
The 32 bingo hall locations in Nevada generated win of 42.4 million dollars and a win percentage of 21.44 percent. It marked the twenty-third consecutive year of profitability, including five straight years of continued growth, and reversed a negative trend that had stigmatized the game.
Fact is, bingo had a reputation for being one of Nevada casinos’ least consistently profitable games. The UNLV Center for Gaming Research reported that during the period from 1984 – 2017, the game lost money for the state’s properties 10 times. From 1988 to 1991, Nevada bingo lost money on aggregate every year.
The game’s profitability has fluctuated dramatically through the years. For example, in 1990, Nevada casinos lost 5.2 million dollars from bingo for a minus 6.54-win percentage, the worst year in history.
In 2017, the year the tide began to turn, the 14 million dollar combined win for all Nevada casinos was the best year and started a trend where it has increased every year since then.
There’s even a resurgence in bingo on regional levels across the country, including the Midwest, where Potawatomi Casino Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, recently brought the game back after an absence of nearly three years.
“We’ve had a strong bingo base from the conception of the property,” said Frank Fisher, Director of Bingo at Potawatomi, where he has worked for 25 years and served as assistant director of the original Nest of Life Bingo Hall, which seated more than 1,300 players for bingo sessions.
The venue was closed in March of 2020 when the pandemic put a stranglehold on life in America as we knew it. It celebrated a grand re-opening this year on January 4 in a sized-down version in the property’s Legacy Ballroom at the entrance to the hotel.
“The Midwest market has always been strong bingo-related,” Fisher said. “The one thing I can tell you about what they’re finding in Las Vegas that’s creating renewed interest in the game is that people are willing to travel for bingo. For example, Station Casinos properties run a large quarterly event that brings a lot of West, Midwest, and East Coast traffic to Las Vegas.”
Potawatomi’s very foundations were built upon the game of bingo. Its absence created a void that the leadership of the property quickly realized needed to be filled.
“Our guests kept asking when the game would be returning,” Fisher said. “The demand was so great that we decided to come back earlier than we had projected. The guests wanted bingo back, and the Tribe wanted bingo back.
“On opening day, lines began to form four and a half hours before the scheduled start of the sale. The lines continued with well over 600 people looking for seats in a 640-seat hall. It was far greater than we had anticipated. We probably turned away 150 people.”
A regular schedule of two sessions daily Wednesday through Sunday was planned, but the format is being tweaked, according to Fisher, “because of the level of standards we wish to maintain”.
Fisher appreciates that what makes the game of bingo, the venues in which it is played, and the people who gather together to play a very special aspect of casino operations.
“I can’t begin to tell you how many hugs and thank you’s I got the first week,” Fisher said. “The biggest part of what bingo offers to guests is the social aspect of the game. It’s the place where you can meet your friends, celebrate special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries, and enjoy fun times together.”
The observation that people are willing to travel for bingo was validated at Potawatomi’s bingo re-grand opening Fisher revealed.
“We definitely got the Chicago area traffic back up to Milwaukee,” he said. “It’s still a little too early to analyze all the demographics to determine, for example, if the travel we used to get from as far away as Texas and northward to Minnesota will return.”
At the present time it is an electronic device operation, but that doesn’t mean that traditions will not be upheld for dedicated, old-school players.
“We combined a little bit of the new with a little bit of the old,” Fisher revealed. “I think the challenge of being able to daub a card will never go away. We actually thought about doing electronic only, but players kept asking when the paper will be available.
“Paper will be back on the floor because there is a need for that brand of entertainment value to challenge yourself to see how many cards you can track in so many seconds. It’s a part of the game.”
There is yet another charm that bingo holds for Americana, and that is its innocence. A simple game played by young and old alike, often the first game children learn to play, and enjoyed by generations of families.
“I’ve seen it become the newest ‘date night’ type of atmosphere,” Fisher noted. “Couples will decide to say ‘let’s play bingo’ instead of going elsewhere. It’s just about the same cost value as a movie or dinner, and the bonus is you can actually win some money.”