Friday, January 09, 2009


Bingo is an interesting thing. I never really knew what went on in a bingo hall other than smoking before I had to work it for my kid's school. Every two weeks I head to the bingo hall and sell "instants". In fact, my name is "instant" on Friday nights.

So, here's the basics... People buy the sheets in order to play the main bingo games, there are 20 of them. However, they also buy these instant win games as well. There are many types of instant win games. Their names are all catchy like "Break the Bank" and "Win on Diamonds" or "Banana Rama" and my personal favorite "Rednecks". When you get win with Rednecks, they have a "You might be a redneck" joke with it.

Now, in any given box of these instants there are more than 5,000 tickets and only a handful of real winners. Then there are "holds" which are also called "numbers". People hold onto them and after the entire box is sold (and believe me, they always sell out) then they "call the game". There is a pull-apart tab that the head guy opens and reveals the grand prize winner which could be up to $1,000. Normally it's like $500 bucks though they split up the winners.

So, my job is to put these instants into a utensil tray, the type you would put in your kithen drawer and walk around with hundreds of dollars in cash and sell these instants. People buy them 20, 30 at a time for a dollar a piece. I have seen people shell out over $300 on instants in one shot. These are people who don't have a lot of money! As you sell them, they pop them open and if you're not quick enough to get away fast, they will throw at you the $1 and $5 winners for you to give them more instants in return.

Sometimes you can be stuck at one table for 10 minutes while three or four people around you are yelling "INSTANT!" trying to get you to come to them so they can buy. Others will get up and come to you because you're not moving. Granted, there are 3 - 5 of us on the floor but it doesn't matter, there are never enough sellers on the floor.

Near the end of the night, it gets slow, nobody has any money left to buy so you try to push them on people so you can sell off the box so they can call the jackpot winner. You start looking for people who opened $1, $3, $5 winners and ask them if you want to trade them in for instants. They normally do. When they're down to 50 or so, then one person walks around with them in their hand calling them out "Last of the 33's" just wishing someone would buy them off you.

There are many who are obviously addicted. There are others who pay big to win big. I saw a woman tonight who won the $500 jackpot, an instant pay out of $55, $75 and $100. She was raking in the money! And she never even one a normal bingo game! She walked away a big winner.

Selling instants is back and feet breaking work. But it goes to a good cause. I put up with the people who try to scam me or the irate people who complain I'm scamming them. I put up with the cop that rags on me everytime I take a 5 minute break (once a night) or when I get something to eat since I haven't eaten dinner. In the end, there is terrible beer and not-so-great pizza, but there is good conversation. And it's great to see people win the grand prize.

So, next time you're out in Columbus, come on down to Mater Dei Bingo at St. Mary's on Napoleon avenue near Whitehall. It's smoke free!

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