SIKESTON - "It's gone," Jodie Walker said as she heard sheets of paper being torn off and crumpled while people around the room began talking.
Sure enough, after the next number was called, the five-letter word that brings happiness to those yelling it and frustration to those hearing it was said. "Bingo!"
The night is fast paced. A ball is called every 15 seconds during each game, according to Floyd. This gives players time to mark their cards with their daubers. Packets with six cards per game and nine cards per game are available for purchase. And while some games are regular bingo, there are also special games, where the winning card must have a certain design, such as a heart.
Other than short breaks between games, the only break that players get is during intermission. People line up at the concession stand during this time, where different types of sandwiches, hot dogs, popcorn, chips, candy and sodas are available throughout the night. Pull tabs are also available throughout the evening.
Men, women, young and old can be found at bingo halls. But middle-aged people and older form the largest group, according to Tom Urhahn, an Oran Knights of Columbus member. "We basically see the same crowd," Larry W. Floyd, Commander of American Legion Post 114 in Sikeston and bingo chairman remarked. Urhahn agreed and added that they see new faces when the jackpot is high or when regular players have out of town visitors. More players come in at the beginning of the month, after payday, and during the wintertime, Floyd reported.
Some regular bingo players are serious and can be seen carrying their bags filled with daubers. Some of these bingo players are also quite superstitious, according to Walker. "If your palm itches, they say you are coming into money," she said. Other superstitions include walking around your chair and watching your bingo sheets, not looking around, for good luck. "Some people get mad if you look at their sheet," Walker said, since they believe this brings bad luck.
Stores are beginning to cash in on this popular trend. Bingo merchandise is in high demand, and "Bingo Lover" t-shirts, jewelry, coffee mugs and even Christmas ornaments can be found in several stores.
The Missouri Gaming Commission grants bingo licenses and requirements are a bit strict. By law, bingo fund raisers must be held by nonprofit organizations, and the profit must be donated, either to charity or another nonprofit organization. Players must be at least 16 years old. Lloyd also commented that workers must be volunteers, who have gone through a background check.
But nonprofit groups are happy to comply with the rules. Since the Oran KC's began sponsoring Tuesday night bingo in April 2003, it has been a good money-maker, according to Urhahn. With bingo money being earmarked for scholarships and charitable donations, profits from other functions are freed up for other expenses incurred by the group.
Knowing that the money goes to charity encourages some people to play more often. "This is like going to a charity to help somebody do something," said Albert Patterson of Sikeston, who has been playing bingo for more than 15 years. By playing bingo, he said that he can have some fun while helping others.
Although everyone would like to win, money doesn't appear to be the main reason why people play bingo. "I come because I like it," Patterson said. For him, it's a way to get away from home every once in a while.
Trey Stone, 16, of Sikeston has a different motive. "I come to spend time with my mom and have a chance to win money," he said. Walker, who began playing bingo with her mom, agreed that it is a good way to spend time with family.
Most people come to bingo nights for the socialization. "They have nothing else to do in life and their livelihood is having somewhere to go," Floyd said. He reported that although bingo doesn't begin until 6:30 p.m., some people start arriving at 4 p.m. to start socializing.
Floyd and several players agreed that bingo is definitely a gamble. Most of the time, the losses are too high to remember. But it is the environment and good times that keep people coming back, along with the chance of winning. "You win some and you lose some," said Jean Smith of Sikeston. "But it makes you feel really good when you win."