Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Gambit

Ah, the Gambit Bingo place off of Calton Road. Many years ago, I heard the place was some sort of roller skating rink where Laredo couples would congregate, holding hands while skating to the latest romantic songs as per Casey Kasem.

Nowadays, you play Bingo (B-I-N-G-O, and Bingo was his Name-o!) inside a light blue, weather-beaten warehouse. Oh, I've been there and I have lived to tell the tale of woe.

Yes, its crowded. Yes, it stinks, and somehow I think the old skates and shoes are still lurking the air ducts. And, it can feel a little hot.

But I was invited to tag along and since I had nothing better to do, I agreed. I had never really understood the culture of bingo, but I was immediately out of place as soon as I walked through the doors. I was a visitor, an intrusion into the lives and routines of dozens of people who saw their presence at the Gambit as more than just a way to pass time.

It was--I dare suggest--like a religious experience for most. I know I walked in thinking that bingo was just a game, someone calling out numbers while participants scrambled to fill in cards with their markers, anxious to call out Bingo before their peers.

But this was not where I was.

Instead, the people I saw and congregated with held Bingo sacred. Sacred, I say. The way a farmer looks at the Earth and holds it sacred. The way a Christian takes the Bible . . . and he holds it sacred. The way a lot of people hold their marriage sacred.

That's the world I found myself in one summer evening.

I . . . I couldn't understand.

Needless to say, I did not win. I left the close confines of the Gambit a bitter man, almost broken by the experience. When my partner in crime asked me if I was all right, I could only offer a half, crooked smile as I shook my head in disbelief.

So now I share my tale of sorrow with whoever listens.

If you know what's best for you, avoid the bingo halls of Laredo. Take it from someone who now knows.


Anonymous said...

The most relevant comment in your post is "I couldn't understand." I think it is a matter of seeing, but not understanding (or sympathizing). According to the Texas Lottery Commission website, the median proportion (p) of money paid out in prizes to state lottery winners to ticket sales is .5677 in the U.S. over the past 20 years. This means that the state retains .4323 cents of each dollar for its purposes. The Texas Charitable Bingo website reports that, from 1982-2002 the median payout proportion was .7256. A 5% tax is levied on the balance and the remainder is used by charitable organizations to sustain their operations. Considering the data in another way, a "benefit" calculation may be estimated by dividing the money distributed in prizes by the state population at the time. The median for U.S. lotteries from the early 80's to the present is $78.01. The odds, of course, for an ordinary lottery ticket holder to win a big payout are astronomical. The median benefit for bingo patrons in Texas is $20.87, much less than lottery, but the probability of winning something is much higher. Bingo patrons, by and large, are poor people. Nevertheless, their "utility" calculations are very reasonable. On any night at Gambit Bingo, $5000 or more is distributed in prizes. For many low-income patrons, this is an eminently reasonable utility calculation. "Entertainment" is also varied by class and culture. In the past, poor people would congregate and entertain themselves (without TV, movies, or Las Vegas) and maybe do some business or politics at the same time. "Loteria" in Mexico was also a "chance" for a poor person to win a jackpot. The fact is that charitable bingo is a sober, sensible ("number sense") social activity, primarily enjoyed by women, who do not care for the Dallas Cowboys, carne asada, beer and the "football pots" that go with it. I wonder if your olfactory comments about the bingo were derived by another American social critic, H.L. Mencken, who despised "the great unwashed" as he referred to poor people in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Different strokes, different folks. some folks hate bingos. So there.

Reference H.L. Mencken, your little pocket statistics, and whatever else you want, it doesn't change the fact that bingo parlors suck the life right out of you.

Perhaps starting a pro-bingo blog would be best for you.

Anonymous said...

Yes it was indeed a roller rink and couples really did skate hand in hand... Ahhh... Sherry Stephens on my arm and two times a lady an hour or so before opening... And who can forget We will rock you when we cracked the rink!
Ah good times.

Derek Owen

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