Thursday, September 28, 2006

The BINGO in BingoProf

Why such a ridiculous moniker? It almost sounds like a CB-radio call sign - "Breaker, breaker....this is Bingoprof...there's a bear at mile marker 78...what's your twenty?" But that's not where "bingoprof" comes from.

You see, aside from being a tenured full professor at an elite East Coast liberal arts college (with an international reputation in my completely obscure field), I also run a BINGO hall. For more than a decade I have been deeply involved in what I am told is the fourth or fifth largest BINGO game in the state of Connecticut. As a volunteer for my Orthodox synagogue's fundraiser, I've moved up through the ranks from floor caller to paper seller to BINGO caller to the ultimate position of Member-In-Charge. As MIC, I am the sole responsible figurehead to liaison with the state's Division of Special Revenue. I am the one who assures that the game is run cleanly. I am the one who engages in customer relations. I count the money, or supervise the person who does so, and I fill out and submit all the paperwork required by the state for a non-profit BINGO fundraiser. I am in charge.
And last night, I hit rock bottom. I got bitch-slapped by an irate customer (the bitch-slapper in question is the woman in yellow). Not once, but twice. And had her lucky BINGO charm thrown at me. If I knew the customer's name, I'd be swearing out an assault charge this morning with the West Hartford police.
Every week my synagogue runs a state-sanctioned BINGO session. Every Wednesday a minimum of 120 people (none of them congregation members) walk through our doors and come into our banquet hall to play the most mind-numbingly stupid form of gambling I have ever encountered. The numbers are rather impressive: on an average night we will give away approximately $3500 over the course of about 25 games. That ain't Foxwoods money, but it is not an insignificant amount, either. The key here is that we will take in about $4500, all cash, leaving us with a gross profit of about $1000. 52 times a year. You do the math. For a synagogue with an approximate annual operating budget of a quarter of a million dollars, you can see that without weekly BINGO, the synagogue would be in dire straits.
Last night wasn't an average night. It was the end of the month, so there were fewer of our typically urban patrons from all walks of life. Without that paycheck, the end of the month means fewer people have expendable income to fritter away on 2-1/2 hours of BINGO. And for the first hour, everything was running smoothly - the paper counts and cash registers were right on the money, everyone seemed happy. And then the drama began.
One of our games is a progressive jackpot. Beginning at $125, each week that fails to produce a winner (a cover-all game in 53 balls called or less) adds another $125 to the jackpot. After ball 53, we give out a $100 consolation prize to the first cover-all winner. If no one wins the game in 16 weeks (and for some obscure mathematical reason, covering a 24-space BINGO card made up of 75 random numbers in 53 called balls is quite difficult), we have what we call "a $2000 night," for when the progressive reaches $2000, the state requires us to give it away to the first person who gets a cover-all, no matter how many balls it takes. On a $2000 night, we will usually have at least 250 players, because the word gets out and the customers come out of the woodwork, and that taxes our staff of volunteers. $2000 nights are crazy.
But last night was only Week 3 in the cycle. A measely $375. I was talking to my friend and fellow volunteer (she calls the second half of the session) at the back of the hall when a customer started screaming at the floor caller who came to verify her win. I looked up. The screen said 54 balls had been called. And on the floor, there was a customer screaming that she had BINGOed on the 53rd number.
Now this has happened before. One time a guy called BINGO too late, and lost out on $875. He had gotten BINGO on the 53rd number, but didn't see it until the 54th ball was called. I had to give him the consolation prize only. Once the caller calls that 54th ball, it is all over. He took the consolation prize like a man. I felt sorry for him.
But this time we had a screaming woman. I went over to her table. I looked around. She screamed she had BINGOed in 53 numbers. I took a second to size up the situation. Usually, the customers will tell me if there is a problem. No one around her would back up her story. I raised my voice to overwhelm her screaming. "If you don't quit screaming, I will throw you out. If you let me verify your card, I will pay you $100." She continued to scream even more vociferously with the lamest threat available to a disgruntled customer: "I'll call the state." So I trumped her. "Here's a phone, lady. Call them right now. You got BINGO in 54 numbers." Of course by now the entire soap opera has transfixed every other player. They live for these little dramas. (One time an elderly congregant was driving out of our parking lot after evening services and lost control of his automobile and slammed into 3 patrons' cars. That was a 45-minute saga, and the entire crowd came out to witness the carnage. Another time a customer went into an epileptic seizure. You can imagine.)
Seething, she finally calms down just enough for me to verify her winning card. The room is out of control with discussions. She is a winner, and it is clear that she won on the 54th ball, because the computer verifier shows that the 54th ball was her winning number. She is still screaming she won on a different number. Essentially, she is trying to cheat us (not uncommon - people try all sorts of tricks). I go get her $100 and place the 5 $20 bills on the table beside her play sheets. "Congratulations." She is still fuming loudly. "You are cheating me." Like I care. All I want to do is run a clean game.
Now I try to calm down the crowd so we can move on. She won't shut up. By this time (probably a 10-minute delay), I have given her 2 warnings that if she doesn't shut up, I will eject her from the game. We try to resume. She still is fulminating loudly. So I walk up to her table, grab her paper and crumple it up, and tell her she is thrown out. Now her daughter intervenes. "Please let us stay, she is my mother." "Will you calm her down?" The daughter seems nice, they both swear to calm down, mommy is crying, the crowd is another hubub, so I return her paper, and after another 2 minutes of calming the crowd, we finally resume.
But I have made a decision - this woman will be banned from returning. As MIC, I have the authority at my discretion to eject or ban anyone from the game. She tried to cheat, and she disrupted the game for 15 minutes. So at the end of the session, I do what any casino floor person would do - I pull out my camera phone and take her picture. I need a picture to make sure that my sellers never let her back into the hall. So when the last game ends, I stand up to inform her that she has been barred from ever returning. She stands up and comes toward me.
"Why did you take my picture?" she snarls with a fevered look in her eyes.
"My name is RK and I am the member-in-charge." She knows what is coming.
"My name is Carmen [garbled]" she yells at me, fury written in her face.
I repeat in a louder voice: "My name is RK and I am member-in-charge. You are banned from this BINGO hall. You can never-"
At that point, I get bitch-slapped. It wasn't much. It was just her way of letting me know she disagreed with my call.
Of course, I never saw it coming. Without raising my hand, I am now even more vociferous: "You are out of here; you can never come back."
Slap number two - more a half-punch. I reach for her arm to try to restrain another hit, and then the nice daughter comes between us. Apparently, daughter knows mommy's style. And the departing crowd of customers are mesmerized.
Separated now by a table, I repeat myself against her objections: "You are outta here. Don't ever come back." Now she throws her BINGO lucky charm at me, easily deflected by my arm. "I'll be back, with the state." "Whatever...goodbye."
So there it is. I've got 100 witnesses to my Jerry Springer moment. I can hardly wait for the next phase of this saga - a call from the state after the customer in yellow complains that I cheated her. Maybe then I will have her name and can swear out an assault charge.
And now, off to my elite East Coast liberal arts college to teach my classes...
Just call me BingoProf.


  1. Yo tengo me dinero!!!!!

  2. Great post. This may be a dumb question here, but what is the significance of the number 53?

    Sounds like some Free Mason secrecy or some sort of conspiracy against surly old ladies.

  3. wow, why didn't anyone tell me about this blog before now? oh wait, they did and i didn't heed their calls for attention.

    i owe bingoprof an apology... forthcoming.

  4. Was BingoProf murdered by a small Asian woman? He certainly hasn't blogged in quite some time.