Bingo makes money

Published 11:59 pm Friday, May 22, 2009

For members of American Legion Post 80, and Ladies Auxiliary Unit 80, bingo is a means with which to fund scholarships, send students to Girls State, help needy veterans, and support other charitable causes.

But the bingo that supports their causes is almost an anachronism – the traditional paper-and-dauber kind that is almost out of place and time with the increasing availability of electronic bingo.

Sue Threatt, a member of Post 80 Ladies Auxiliary, is the unofficial guru of local American Legion bingo. She coordinates the games, the pay outs and acts as one of the officials who checks winners’ cards.

Threatt said on average, the Legion pays out approximately $1,000 each Tuesday and Friday night.

“And that’s not including the two jackpots we have,” Threatt said. “There’s two and together they’re right at $1,000, and someone wins those each month.”

Post Commander Bobby Barton explained that players have three options when purchasing cards: $10 for one packet; $15 for two packets or by the sheet for $1. A player with one packet plays nine “cards” simultaneously in each game.

“What’s interesting about our bingo is that it’s not the bingo we remember from our childhood,” Barton said. “It’s not just a straight across line or diagonal that can win. Now, we have all sorts of pattern games to make it interesting.”

Typically, there are between 30 and 100 people playing bingo at the Legion on Tuesday and Friday nights, and there is a guaranteed nightly payout of at least $800.

“Someone always wins,” Barton said. “I just can’t guarantee who it will be.”

Each game has a set cash prize, and if more than one person “bingos,” at the same time in a particular game, they split the prize money.

That happened to Willie Merle “Bill” Anderson of Opp early Friday night.

“I won $13.30,” she said. “Sometimes you just get back what you spent on cards, but it’s fun.”

Anderson said she plays bingo almost every time the Legion offers it, and enjoys herself.

“It’s something to do and it’s fun,” she said.

Legion and Auxiliary members volunteer their time on Tuesday and Friday nights and pride themselves on the family atmosphere that surrounds their bingo nights.

There’s no smoking; the Legion’s bar is closed; and children are welcome, so long as they are seated and participating.

“The whole (experience) is good, family fun,” Threatt said. “You come out have a good time, see a few friends, and if you’re lucky, win a little money.”

Auxiliary members Thelma Glisson and Merle Little were volunteering in the snack bar Friday night, as they do most Friday nights. They sell hot dogs, candy, chips and drinks for about three hours and the proceeds go to the Auxiliary. They also sell cards for a special game, and bingo daubers or markers.

“We just sent six to Girls State,” Glisson, who is the Auxiliary president, said. “We fund scholarships. We carry items to the veterans home in Montgomery. We also help needy families at Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

And, they support those currently in active service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“We just sent six blankets to Afghanistan,” she explained. “Some of the soldiers are allergic to the wool ones issued by the Army.”

Similarly, the American Legion Post funds annual scholarships to two students at each of the high schools, Barton said.

“We average 14 scholarships a year,” he said. “We also help needy veterans, support American Legion baseball and we’ve given to the Honor Flights.”

Post Adjutant Ed Lacy said a lot of people give time to that and other Legion efforts.

“There’s always something to be done,” he said.

Like a number of charities in the county, American Legion Post 80 has been approached about partnering with gaming investors from other states to offer electronic bingo. Barton, the commander, said Legion members have not made a decision yet.

“We decided to wait and see what the county does,” he said. “And we’ve waited, so they might not be interested in us any more. Whatever we do, will be a decision of the members. It’s not my decision.”

A local act passed in the Alabama legislature in 1993 sets rules for charitable bingo in Covington County. Those rules give the sheriff authority to issue $100 permits for charitable bingo and set guidelines for issuing those permits.

Constitutional Amendment 565, approved by statewide vote in 1994, allows charitable bingo in Covington County and charges the county commission with setting rules for it. The county commission has been given proposed rules by its attorney, Julie Moody. However, the commission has not publicly discussed those rules and has denied at least four requests by this newspaper for copies.