Bingo’s days as a game played solely by grannies with the eyes of a fly, the arms of an octopus, and the attitude of a hungover stevedore are over.
Move over Mildred and Martha. Make way for Jennifer and Jessy. Blue hair is no longer a requirement for bingo.
Today’s bingo is more about camaraderie and companionship than cleaning up numbers for carnival prizes. The games themselves are diverse, ranging from charitable fundraisers to drag queen roof raisers. The people who play are younger, working, out for a good time.
Jennifer Seegers, 45, was out to meet friends for some brews and bingo on one of Fat Point Brewery’s regular Wednesday night offers. The office manager and communications director at Deep Creek Community Church has been coming since mid-August and is something of a folk hero because she has won not one game. A full session of bingo is seven rounds. You do the math.
“She came close once,” said Jessy Abbate, Fat Point brew master. “But she has a great positive attitude.”
Bingo, Jen said, is “just fun hanging out with people. It doesn’t cost anything outside of food and drink. You just kind of play. It’s like a little community we have here.”
When she’s not playing bingo, Jennifer takes part in Ironman competitions, where you swim, run and bike for long distances, one right after the other. The two activities don’t seem all that compatible, but, hey, it’s Florida.
Maybe it’s the sense of community.
Jen likes to get to Fat Point early, slide two high-tops together, and wait for her friends to arrive. “Sometimes there’s just two of us, sometimes there’s eight,” she said. On this Wednesday, she was expecting seven.
The Punta Gorda bar has been holding bingo on Wednesday’s for a couple years now, and folks who work there say it draws a good crowd.
“It’s one of our biggest nights,” said Ashley Bojorquez, a Fat Point employee. “You hear people say bars don’t offer bingo anymore. A lot of bars do trivia or karaoke nights. So, it’s a nice change.”
Fat Point does offer bingo, and the person in charge is none other than the brew master herself. Abbate calls all seven rounds, awards free rounds of beer, and spreads liquid good cheer throughout the room.
“I call out bingo and see people scream out for winning or scream for losing,” Jessy said. “It’s fun.”
Jessy confirms the folks who come in for bingo are, indeed, younger than Methuselah.
She says it’s because they’re not going to a traditional bingo parlor, but to an “atmosphere of craft brewing. It’s exciting. We have prizes. The fourth round is always a mystery prize that I come up with, but ultimately, it’s either free money or free beer.
“You can’t go wrong either way.”
Bars aren’t exclusive to fun and excitement. Jenifer Bettencourt, a Port Charlotte mother of two, goes to a bingo parlor for a good time.
Bettencourt, 42, grew up across the street from a Catholic school, so she was around bingo and bingo players all the time as a kid. It doesn’t happen quite that often these days. But when the urge strikes, she’ll call her best friend and off they’ll go.
“It’s like, ‘Hey, you want to go hang out?’” she said. “It’s an infusion of fun – break up the mundane. It’s something kind of outside the box to go do.
“It surprises everybody. People are like, ‘Oh, bingo.’ And then they get in there are they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, that was so much fun.’
“It’s stress relief.”
And a social elixir, Seegers says.
“I know in just in my friend group, we’re about community, doing things in groups,” she said. “It’s where people get together and have something in common, and have fun, and do life together.”