Not your grandmother’s bingo night

Good friends Tammie Nickle, left, and Shirley Aguilera, both

The atmosphere is tense, quiet, yet electric like a high stakes casino game. A light “dob dob” sound can be heard from large ink markers called daubers hitting the thin paper, then the “B-5” announcement. And suddenly, BINGO!

It’s bingo night every Tuesday starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Community and Cultural Center in Morgan Hill put on by the Friends of the Morgan Hill Senior Center. This is professional bingo; gone are the hand-turned wheel cages where a person pulls out a ball, no one uses markers or crayons and the game isn’t just for retirees anymore.

An automatic machine picks the ball, which is shown on camera, projected on a screen so that all players can see. Some players now use a machine called Electronic Card Minders that looks like a large GPS device and plays up to six games, all players have to do is press a button when the ball is called out. The old way and new ways mix as players simultaneously keep up with their own paper board, dabbing away categories while the machines keep up the other boards for them.

There’s no more matching all the numbers called either. If a bingo is called, a “Bingo Buddy” finds the potential winner and reads off the serial number found on their board. The announcer punches it into the system to find out if the person is in fact a winner.

For a $20 buy-in, a player receives two packets of paper that have nine games a piece on them. For $30, the players receive one paper packet with nine games and the machine. For prizes up to $1,199, this isn’t just a friendly game to pass some time.

For mother-daughter duo Monica and Rose Marie Berry, both of Morgan Hill, the game is a chance for them to spend some quality time together, and of course, win big.

Monica has been playing bingo with her mother since she was 18, now going on 23 years. Mom Rose Marie has been in the game for more than 30 years. Several weeks ago, Rose Marie won the biggest prize so far given out by the Friends of the Morgan Hill Senior Center Bingo – $1,199. Rose Marie said she spent $10 that day in flashboard games.

In addition to the typical paper and machine buy-ins, players can also purchase flashboards for $1. They can be either instant winners, or match all four numbers on their piece of paper to win cash, some are $400, $600 or in Rose Marie’s case, $1,199. Games are also more fancy than the five in the row: there are “Crazy T”s patterns one has to make on the paper board, the letter C, an arrow pattern, or even the number seven.

At their table in the middle of the room, you can find the two in a serious yet happy mood. They arrive about 5 p.m. to get their seats and prepare themselves for the game. For bingo players, said Monica, sitting in the same spot where you won is good luck.

“It’s because bingo players are very possessive of their tables. Once they get a spot, they’re very territorial. They want their spot,” said Monica.

Some players also bring out their special good luck charms. Monica, for example, has her rubber bingo duck with her at all times.

“Usually people have their little Buddha things, pictures of their kids – whatever you have that you feel lucky with. I have my little keychain that I believe is luck too. It has little horseshoes in it. It’s from Peru. I use it a lot because it’s getting worn out,” said Monica, taking the circular keychain from out of her purse.

And luck it has brought her. Monica won $1,450 at another bingo game in the area; she attends an average of four per week.

Little bingo troll dolls with their multi-colored hair and “Lucky Bingo Troll” shirts can be seen around the room watching steadily over the players on those hopeful Tuesday nights. One woman dabs away with two different colored daubers with a small collection of elephants lined up in front of her. Several have shirts that read “My lucky bingo shirt.”

Luck is also what the Friends of the Morgan Hill Senior Center, part of the Morgan Hill Community Foundation, had when they started the game Jan. 3 in terms of success. On Jan. 24, the center had 111 participants, the next week on Jan. 31 the number jumped to 150 participants.

The Friends started this game to raise funds for the Senior Center, said Linda Tarvin who helped start the nonprofit organization. Proceeds go toward things such as keeping the nutrition program that serves 21,000 meals a year, an average of 85 seniors every day.

“This money helps us to sustain the nutrition program, to sustain the operating hours of the senior center,” said Senior Center Director Susan Fent.

People travel from far away places to play. Besides people from Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Hollister and San Jose, Mirusha Regalado who has been playing since the first week, comes from Paicines, about 12 miles south of Hollister. She sits toward the back of the room, and keeps the game simple. She doesn’t believe in the good luck charms, she said, she just comes to play.

The farthest someone has traveled to get to this particular bingo night? That prize goes to Deb Forsyth of Swisher, Iowa. That’s 1,968 miles away to play bingo. Forsyth told the Friends of Morgan Hill Senior Center she’s visiting for several weeks and that Tuesday night’s game was “a nice place to play bingo!” during her visit.

Players can also sign up to receive text message reminders the day of bingo for a peek at what the special prizes will be for that night. Monica receives her text every Tuesday.

“I feel special, like I’m part of it, involved in the bingo and that I’m welcomed. They want me to come,” she said.

Where: Morgan Hill Community & Cultural Center, 17000Monterey Road. 
When: Every Tuesday starting at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 5p.m.
Why: To raise funds for the Morgan Hill Senior Center

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