Bingo Goers Are Gone in a Puff!


All through my childhood and adolescence, I constantly heard my grandfather say that famous refrain: “The road to hell was paved with good intentions”. As a child, I did not understand well what he meant, but as I grew up, I was able to grasp the meaning.

Last week, almost unconsciously, that saying was the first thing that escaped my lips when I heard about the disastrous effects that the no smoking ban has caused on the bingo business! Seems like lighting up actually did lit up the bingo business!

At this point, many of you might think that I might be going a little overboard… “Disastrous? Really? C’mon, it is a positive health issue!” But, I do not know what else to call a $100 million annual lost in the bingo revenue ever since the new law was implemented. Bingo runner Charles Lindstrom says that the law has affected his business profoundly, almost reducing his clientele to half of what it used to be. On regular bingo nights at an American Legion post, Mr. Lindstrom said that average 75-50 bingo players used to attend. After the law passed, the number reduced to 40-30 attendants.

To many bingo goers, playing bingo without smoking is like eating nonfat ice cream, it is just not the same! Therefore, many of the missing players have apparently left the usual bingo sites and made their way to smokier pastures like the Bingo Halls on the Indian reservations or have decided to jump across the state border to Fargo, N.D., since that state’s smoking ban exempts veterans’ organizations. What many people do not realize is that even if this ban is beneficial to the health of the non-smoking players, many charity organizations, churches, veteran groups, social help groups and community groups are also suffering from the major cut down to bingo gambling revenue. For example, Mr. Lindstrom says that he does not know if they can keep sponsoring some community baseball teams because the income is not enough.

All around, all the bingo owners seem to feel the same way about the smoking ban. For example, Michael J. Surwill, who is a bingo chairman at Elks Lodge No. 2501 in Ocean Springs, Miss. Says that last year his bingo games had managed to help a safe house for abused women, a program about drug awareness, and a camp for young cancer survivors. In his opinion, “I’m sure we wouldn’t raise nearly that much if we banned smoking.” Why? Simply because smokers triple the non-smokers in his weekly bingo games.

Yet, many bingo owners say that this law has consolidated their business, but this is not a good thing. The only reason why is because their competition has been forced to close, and they are the last ones standing. I am not saying that banning smoking is solely to blame for it but when you put it together with the multiplying of reservation casinos, the new alterations in state gambling regulations and the struggling economical state in which the country is in.

Many smoking ban supporters say that this is an expected effect of the prohibition and that businesses will slowly bounce back. State Representative Thomas Huntley gave his two cents by saying that “[a]round the country, whenever places have put in smoking bans, there is a six-month period where there is a drop in business in bars and restaurants, which is where this gambling takes place, and after that, it starts to rebound.” Plus, many argue that the state costs of smoking for public health and efficiency surpass the bingo losses.

The debate about this law for bingo lovers continues to heat up but it seems that the only ones who suffer are bingo players and beneficiaries. What do you guys think? Is this ban beneficial or harmful to the live bingo community? Sound off in the comments!