Inside Delta Bingo
I'm at Delta Bingo and behind me, covering one of the enormous walls at this 1799 St Clair West bingo hall, is a hand painted mural of Elvis Presley. Across the cavernous room you can spot the likeness of Tony Bennett adorning another wall, and in between are rows and rows of purple and turquoise chairs.
This room at Delta Bingo is unlike anywhere else in Toronto with its tacky-timeless charm and Las Vegas inspired ghetto fabulousness. When I enter, I'm greeted by Eileen Potter; a genuine and pleasant woman more than happy to show a novice like myself the ropes.
The game of Bingo itself is simple enough, I remember playing it in school as a kid, but even if you've never played it before, it hardly needs explaining. Number gets called, you mark number off on your card - easy. But grown-up, adult bingo involves cash, and as a result the game needs to be tweaked just a touch in order to make it work for everyone involved (read: make money).
For the most part, the complications added are simply more opportunities to win money, which in turn is more times the house collects. There are a number of different games you can get involved in and not all of them are necessarily part of your standard issue book of cards, so before you start daubing, make sure you've got the right game.
All of this is fairly easy to follow if you pay attention, and the learning curve is about 10 minutes tops. The caller - the person reading out the numbers - will generally keep you abreast of the current game and whether you're aiming to complete a line, two lines, an "H" or a full card and there are a number of floor workers who can come over if you have questions (or want more cards).
So what's it like?
Pretty surreal actually, I showed up for the morning game, 10a.m., and I had a blast. It's an odd mix of people, mostly little old ladies and stay at home, sweat pants types, but an unexpected number of burly, rough looking men as well.
What took me a little by surprise though is the general, good mood everyone was in - jovial even. Now, I don't know everyone's story here (for a sample, check out the excellent doc Jackpot which profiles some of the regulars here) , but if I were to recklessly pass baseless judgment on a group of people whom I don't know, I would venture to say there are probably a few players here who have fallen on hard times in their lives.
The thing is, it's irrelevant. Everyone here - with their daubers, lucky troll dolls and spread of tickets, frantically checking numbers - is a potential winner. Everyone has the chance to hit the jackpot, and even better, someone will. Unlike games like the lottery, or slots, there is always a winner in bingo and that winner, that future winner, is in the room right now.
The last game of the day is for $1,000 and one of the maybe two-dozen people in the room right now is taking it home with them - that's appealing. That's better than a multi-million dollar pipe dream that offered by LottoMAX or 649.
That being said, its socialness is still somewhat limited. People mostly come alone and everyone has their sights square on their cards, but you'll catch a brief conversation here and there and a little small talk in between games is more than welcome.
But to be honest, while the game is going, if you've got time to chat, that just means you didn't buy enough tickets.
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