[This is way too detailed, but whatevers.] So, yesterday I traveled to the Wonder of it All [i.e. Foxwoods, which I am not linking to here because of their website is quite annoying] with CJ, H, and L, to play Bingo. H and L had played Bingo once or twice before, and have a startlingly good winning record. H, you may recall, even got a stint in the money machine.
So. Foxwoods is loud, and complicated, with a lot of different areas and casinos and restaurants. There's a fake-New-England town area, and a fake-NYC area (though I only "got" the theme after I saw signs for Juniors and Craftwich), a bar with a giant salmon statue, and a buffet where they display huge, bloody pieces of raw meat, which did not make us want to eat there. Their Bingo hall is enormous. Just rows and rows of chairs at long tables with pink plastic trash bags duct-taped to the sides every fourfeet or so, so that you can shove your losing bingo sheet into a bag without getting up. You can also, if you got there early (recommended), put the trash from your El Pollo Loco dinner into them. The hall holds 3,600 people, though there was less than half of that there when we played. But over a thousand, for sure. People bring special bingo dauber caddies and little figurines and stuffed animals brought for good luck. There were a lot of old people, as you'd expect, but also a few couples and small groups of 20- and 30-somethings, which felt encouraging somehow. We paid $20 to get in, which gives you bingo sheets for all of the regular games, and then we bought the maximum extras package with all of the Special and Quickie games for an additional $29. They scatter the Special and Quickie games throughout the regular rounds. Each round is slightly different, so you might be looking to create a 9-square, or an L shape, Bingo the hard way (not using the free space), or an "Indian star". TV screens encircle the room and show you the ball with the number for a few seconds before the caller says it out loud. If you get a Bingo, you have to wait until the caller says the letter and number, and then shout "Bingo!" loud enough for the caller to hear it. Then you hold your sheet up and wait for a person to come over and verify your sheet. Each sheet has a code printed on it, so they read off the code to the caller, and then the caller people punch it into their computer, which will tell if a Bingo was possible on that card or not. The caller says either "No Bingo" (and play continues) or "Good Bingo" which means there's been a winner. If more than one person gets Bingo at the same time, they split the pot. Most sheets have 9 cards on them, so that's a lot of searching for numbers. They don't go slowly, either.
Before we started, CJ and I made a deal to split whatever we won 50/50, and shook on it. Somewhere in the middle of the first act (there's an intermission) was a game where we had to make a "Y". Suddenly I realized I only needed one more number. "I only need one more!" I whispered, and then the very next number came up: 34. "And there it is!" It all happened so fast! I waited until she said "N thirty-four" and I yelled "Bingo!" super loud, as everyone in the room groaned a little (as they did after every call of bingo). A runner person verified my sheet, had me sign a little slip, and a few minutes later she came back and counted out $500 cash for me. I gave CJ $250 the next time we had a spare minute. We were very happy, though CJ said, "I kind of feel like I didn't win," and I was all, feel that bulge of cash in your pocket? I think you won.
At intermission I looked at my watch and saw it was around 9; we had started playing at 6:30, which seemed about an hour ago, tops. I watched a woman do the money machine. She had clearly not gotten any of the helpful hints that H had gotten, because she was just grabbing and crumpling the money and then trying to shove it through the little slot, which wasn't working all that well. I imagine that's about how I'd do it. In the second act, L got a bingo on one of the special games, winning $300. It's like old hat for her; I think she's played 4 times and won 3, or something. Had she won a second time on that game (it's complicated) she would have gotten to spin the big wheel. Instead, a nice older woman did it and everyone cheered her on.
By the time we were done, it was 11 p.m. We wanted to get a snack and play some slots, so we got bagels and soup at Panera, and then found the "smoke-free slots" area (oh yes, smoking is allowed indoors here. It's on a reservation so they make their own rules). I lost $5 on a slot machine, then another $3 at a different one, and $2 at a video poker machine. I did get a free vodka and cranberry from a passing waitress, though, which was nice. I put in another $10 bill, and lost about $8 before moving back to another slot machine. This one was "The Hex-Breaker" and was a 5-cent slot, and my "points" kept going up and down and it was time to leave, so I tripled my bet and hit it, bringing me up to $30.05. So I cashed out $10 ahead.
There were about 1,200 people playing Bingo, and maybe 40 winners, so I was one of the lucky 3%. A couple of the people our age also won, though there were lots more old-timers there. I think this kind of Bingo might be too hard for the elderly. You mis-hear one number, or fall behind at all, and you're screwed. I can't believe how the time flew by. They totally suckered me in with the winning, and I signed up for their free "Dreams card" which gives you points for losing your money. Foxwoods is almost 2 hours away so I don't know how often I'll be tempted to return. Still, though: Bingo. The 5 hours of entertainment was totally worth $50 -- of course I say that since I won something, but still. A+++, would play again.