May 3, 2002
To: Editors, Kingston Whig-Standard
I never thought that I would write in a letter to the editor on the subject of bingo. But because I teach the sociology of sport over at the U, and understand the undeniable point that bingo is a game of chance where commitment, habit, and obsession converge to provide perhaps the signal competitive experience Kingstonians over fifty enjoy, I feel that I must make a modest proposal to address the current dilemma.
Bingo has much going for it. You do not need a huge casino to play bingo. You merely require a bingo palace--which can be as confining as a blind pig if the spirit moves. Bingo is simple. Rules and paradigms have not altered over the years. No twenty-four second clock; no enlarged key; no rules against excessive celebration or spiking one's marker after a score; no huge increase in monetary rewards. We hear nothing of a Tiger Woods of B-3, a Michael Jordan of 0-64, a Bill Gates of I-19. We hear only cheers and groans following the winning call.
All of us know the rules, the simple down payment for a card or several cards. We know the anticipation of a real game of chance where nothing is -- or can be-- fixed. I recall as a tyke bingo at summer camp made sweeter by hot chocolate and marshmallows that followed. The prizes ("pots") were never too large. Winning never got anyone rich--the game was social--like a sedentary lawn sale where one went with, and met friends, made new friends, and whiled away a couple of hours, or more. When you did win, you felt really great, for a few minutes.
And then there is the financial side--the funds raised for causes no one else invests in -- causes insufficiently high on the totem pole of need to derive bucks from United Way or ... United Way. Someone should publish how much, and to whom, area bingos contribute in a given year. The sum total is significant, and directors of many programs assure us that their programs would be impoverished or non-existent without bingo bucks.
Indeed, bingo bucks help the city and its service organizations immensely. Bingo taxes line city coffers, and bingo cuts help north end youth baseball and schizophrenia, among other causes.
But here's the rub: since time began, a Faustian bargain has linked middle-class service groups to working-class players. The former run the bingos and in so doing fleece the latter. In the process the middle class fleeces the working class and gets lung cancer in return.
Some argue that this is a fair bargain. In fact, several things might be done to solve a big problem:
Bingo is a wonderful game. One day a sociologist will tell us why bingo and smoking became inextricably coeval. Breaking the nexus will be as difficult as breaking the habit.