You’ve got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them.
And after 40 years of local Lions bingo nights, it’s finally time to fold.
Last night, players were given a letter explaining the reasoning behind ending the long-running event. They were also told it would be the last night bingo would be operating.
It won’t come as much of a surprise to many, Lion Mel Jorgensen said.
“Twice we’ve had to cancel bingo in the last few months,” he said, due to a dramatic drop in attendance. It takes at least 20 people to run a proper bingo night, and more still to earn a profit. In its heyday, the Agassiz-Harrison Lions Club bingo would attract 350 to 400 people. One night, a major fundraising effort drew in 750 people.
Lately, the number has hovered anywhere from 13 to 24. And some nights, they were losing money.
And that’s just not enough to keep the doors open, Jorgensen said.
Lion Zenon Sabat has been volunteering at Thursday bingo for the past 30 years, and has seen the decline in attendance firsthand.
“It used to be, at one point when the crowds were big, a million dollar business,” he said.
All the money that was generated from bingo has gone toward Lions projects, including local scholarships for students. With bingo no longer making revenue, that meant the volunteer time that Lions like Jorgensen and Sabat were putting in, weren’t translating into dollars for the community. Recently, it was taking about six or seven people a night to run the bingo. In the past, it took at least 10.
Jorgensen told the Observer Tuesday that “it’s going to be a sad day on Thursday,” for those who use the weekly bingo night as their social outing.
“But we need to use our time on things that benefit our club’s goals,” he said. “It’s going to disappoint people but what can we do?”
The drop in attendance is a result of the provincial government going in “direct competition” with local bingos, Jorgensen said, a feeling that was echoed in the letter to participants.
“Unfortunately, the government has promoted and encouraged mega bingo halls which have attracted our customers away from us,” the letter stated. “A number of casinos have emerged in the surrounding areas as well, and these factors have combined to make it very difficult for a small bingo operation such as ours to survive.”
Sabat said he’s run into past bingo players, and asking them where they’ve been usually gets the same answer — bigger casinos.
“We see people and they say they go out to the casinos now,” he said. “They jump on the bus and play the penny machines, make a day of it.”
It’s not the complete end of bingo dollars in the area, though.
The Agassiz-Harrison Lions club will continue to participate in the televised bingo that runs on Shaw Cable, along with the Dogwood Monarchs and the Hope Lions Club. Tickets for that are sold at Ledoux Hardware, the Chehalis General Store, and That Store (on Pioneer Avenue in Agassiz).
In the meantime, the Club will continue focusing their efforts on their many projects, including the upcoming car show on July 24, downtown Agassiz.
Other fundraisers include the Miss Maria Slough competition, their spring garage sale, concessions at the swim club and the Festival of the arts Children’s Day, and the Mothers Day breakfast.
There is also still bingo on Tuesday nights at the Ag Hall, through the Agricultural Association, which is helping fund upgrades to the Ag Hall. Doors open for that bingo at 5 p.m.