DEIRDRE It sure did! I'm often surprised by my own thirst for victory, which is another topic for another piece. But there must be some sense of relief (and/or moral superiority) knowing that our money wasn't going to the state (as with the Lottery) or to a mammoth corporation (as with big-business casinos). The South Portland Bingo Hall is run by the Maine Boosters Association, a non-profit, family-run organization that gives money — everything they make in a night, minus what they pay out to winners and what it takes to cover overhead — to community and school groups. On Thursdays, for example, the Scarborough ice hockey booster club sends volunteers to assist at the hall; in return they get donations for their team. By shelling out for bingo, we benefited South Portland's music-education program, local Lions clubs, and several sports teams. On average, they distribute $300,000 per year to such groups. "It's more than they can make in a bake sale, that's for sure," Paul Lamson notes. Not to mention that the bingo hall is a long-standing, local-family institution itself, one that finds itself struggling in this economy. It's hard to vilify, even if gambling isn't your thing.

NICK Especially once you start to look at it as a social-service mechanism. Sure, the bingo hall can contain some of the same whiffs of disappointment and desperation as the other places you mention, but it does a pretty effective job of directing money into organizations that need it, like youth educational programs. Playing bingo feels like an indulgence — and in a way it totally is — but you're actually doing much more social good than you may realize. In other words, as Ashley Lamson quipped, "gamble local."

Learn more about the South Portland Bingo Hall at  sopobingo.com. Deirdre Fulton can be reached at dfulton@phx.com; Nicholas Schroeder can be reached at nschroeder@phx.com.


D-411: Factoids about bingo

• Bingo has its origins in late-eighteenth-century Italy, where a version of the Italian National Lotto evolved to include a playing card with horizontal and vertical rows and chips that were to be placed over specific numbers on the card. The first player to cover a horizontal row was the winner. The game gained popularity across Europe and spread to the United States in the early 1900s.

• Bingo's not just five in a row, and even that has a variation called "the hardway," in which a player gets five squares without using the "free" space in the center. Most rounds actually involve making different shapes with the called numbers, like a cross, or a shovel, or the "coverall," in which every square must be called before a player can shout Bingo and claim the win.

• The South Portland Bingo Hall has been in the same location (well, it moved into it current space from the one next door about 16 years ago), under the same ownership (the Lamson family), for 27 years. It currently employs 20 people.

• The Maine State Police oversees and issues licenses for bingo games in Maine, whether they are one-off events like those held at fairs or fundraisers, or regular activities as in South Portland. This is where the liquor prohibition comes from, as well as the stipulation that no more than $1400 may be awarded on any given night (this does not include winner-take-all prizes). No more than $400 may be awarded per game ($500 for winner-take-all games), and if there are multiple winners, the prize is split evenly among them. No one else can play your papers; if you have to get up from the table, a worker can stand-in for you.

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