Bingo for charity has been around for decades. Churches and charities set up a temporary bingo hall in a large space and raise funds by selling cards for play. Prizes are also funded out of the money raised by the players in the hall or by previous donations. But they’re also on the decline. Why are bingo charities so popular, and what’s causing them problems now?
First, they’re fun! Most people know the rules of bingo and it’s an easy game to play. The equipment isn’t that expensive and ongoing costs for new cards is low. Bingo for charity is also a much more relaxed environment than traditional bingo halls. It’s as much of a social get-together for a good cause as it is a fun game.
The second reason is that it’s legal. Bingo for charity is one of the few forms of gambling that slipped its way past anti-gambling advocates in the early 20th century. Bingo is a game of complete luck and it’s difficult to cheat when everyone can see the bingo cage moving and there are multiple people watching the balls after they’re pulled. It’s a game of perfect information. Bingo equipment doesn’t have the gambling stigma that cards and dice have. It’s also played for low stakes or for non-cash prizes.
Since it was one of the few gambling games that came through, it had a wide-open market among groups that traditionally eschew gambling like churches and charities. It was a way to play a gambling game without the sin of gambling attached. And if someone were to spend a little extra at the bingo hall for more cards, the money would be going to a good cause.
Charity bingo is also a big business, and much of the money that goes into the pot at the hall may not go to the charity. Whether this happens or not depends on the state gaming rules. Most state lotteries raise money for education. The money that goes to education is taken off the top before any money for prizes or for running the operation is taken. In bingo halls across the country, it’s the other way around. Charities get what’s left over after prizes and paying for the hall.
This can lead to a vicious cycle. In order to raise more money, the halls need to make the prizes more attractive for people to come play. But that means more money is coming out of the entire pot, which still leaves only a tiny amount for charity. It’s not so much the fault of the game itself, but rather the nature of on-going operations for charity.
A single fundraiser game held by a church or an American Legion building doesn’t cost much at all. The people running are usually volunteers, and once the equipment is bought there’s little capital investment. Charity fundraisers done this way have a chance to raise some money, but that’s not a sustainable way to run a traditional bingo hall.
There is a chance, though, that online bingo gaming could raise money for charities in the future. What’s to stop a bingo gaming site from offering a cut of their proceeds to a charity? They could just take a cut off the top like a lottery and then focus on prizes and profit. With so many people now playing online bingo, the potential player base is large enough that charities could benefit, prizes could be plentiful, and the business would be worth enough to run.
Despite the numerous problems, charity bingo is around to stay. People love to play bingo (if our numbers are any indication!) and it’s a simple game for small groups to set up for small fundraisers. The big bingo halls might be sweating though. Perhaps it’s time for them to take up app programming