MARCO ISLAND — It’s not exactly Vegas. But games of chance are drawing hundreds of players on Marco Island, with thousands of dollars changing hands each week.
Yes, it’s bingo, at the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island (JCMI) on Winterberry Drive, back for the 12th year in a row.
Doors open at 5:30 each Monday evening, and the first bingo card isn’t called until 7 p.m., so there’s plenty of time for schmoozing, as well as eating a little. The price of admission and cards includes a supper featuring kosher hot dogs, plus chips, coffee and desserts.
This past Monday, even on a raw, blustery evening with many snowbirds yet to return for the season, over 120 players lined the tables at the temple, with the partitions opened up to utilize the whole space. In season, crowds of up to 300 are common, said co-chair Sue Baum.
The room was filled with a buzz of conversation as people caught up with old friends and greeted new ones, but when the games began, the sound was cut off as if by a knife, and the bingo players got down to the serious business of filling out their cards.
Joe Lenhardt said he has been a regular here for ten years.
“Our neighbors introduced my wife and me to bingo here. The neighbors died, my wife died, and I’m still coming,” he said. Two weeks ago, at the first game of the season, he won a Bonanza game, and pocketed $150, and won last week as well, but was still waiting for a winning card tonight.
Kathy Hanson and Marilyn Heling were visiting from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and admitted to being a couple of bingo sharks.
“I’m just playing six cards tonight, but lots of times I play nine,” said Hanson. “I’m really here for the social life.” Wherever they travel, she said, they search out a local bingo game.
“Don’t let her kid you,” interjected Heling. “She’s a serious player. She has nine daubers at home.” The daubers are used to mark numbers on each player’s cards as the caller reads them off the balls that, lotto-style, are randomly spit out by the pro-level Bingo King machine, and displayed on two electronic boards set up along the walls.
With about 20 volunteers, and more as the crowds swell, the games are well monitored and smooth running. The callers, also volunteers, rotate through the evening, along with their assistants, who, a la Vanna White, put the numbers up on the board, but don’t have a speaking role.
Ivan Slavich, a Vietnam vet who retired as a colonel, is the chief caller, and took the first shift, assisted by Estie Karpman. Next up was Bert Thompson, a former JCMI congregation president, with assistance from Joan Thompson, who, as his wife, is no doubt used to the teamwork.
The winning bingo players vary from Monday to Monday, but the consistent winner is the temple, said volunteer Harvey Brennan.
“Oh yeah, it definitely helps out” with the JCMI’s expenses, he said, noting this year is “lucky 13” for bingo at the synagogue. “This keeps us going.” Players pay either $15 or $22 for their game packs, which include their supper. Sodas are available for $1, and daubers go for $1.75 each.
The games got harder and faster as the evening wore on, with players rapidly scanning multiple cards, each with 24 numbers and a free square in the middle. Sitting next to each other, Mary Lee Andrewjewski and and Lori Merenda each won a $50 game.
By the time a reporter left, “sharks” Hanson and Heling had yet to finish in the money, although Heling ruefully showed a card for the big Bonanza Coverall game lacking only one number. The games went on, as they will each Monday evening through the first week of May, 2012.
“That is a good bingo,” called out Slavich, after double-checking the numbers. “That game is over.” And on to the next.