Gambling 'the hardway'

Embedded in South Portland's seven-nights-a-week bingo hall
By DEIRDRE FULTON AND NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  January 25, 2012

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DEIRDRE Let's start out by sharing how inauspiciously this adventure began — on a Tuesday evening, with both of us entirely bewildered by the South Portland Bingo Hall on John Roberts Road (in the Nowheresville between the mall and the Home Depot). What do you think were the contributing factors to our getting started on the wrong foot?

NICK I think the biggest faux pas we made was arriving after the 6:30 start time. It always takes a certain amount of humility and patience to ingratiate yourself to a new community; by arriving late and discarding one of the night's only rules, they had no reason to take us seriously. I really expected we could join games on a rolling basis! Or that everyone would be chatting merrily with each other! Instead we created a very awkward scene — walking into an enormous room of 200 people in library silence, and we didn't even play a single game! We just perched at that long center table right as everyone was bearing down on their scorecards. We must've looked like cops in a Chuck E. Cheese.

DEIRDRE It was terrible. (And what a hilarious metaphor given the age-bracket of most bingo players.) The following night, we played it much safer, arriving around 5:30, which gave us time to buy our papers and get a quick tutorial from our savior Paul Cyr, plus get dinner from the concession stand, which is the domain of Ashley Lamson (who is the daughter of Gary Lamson, president of the Maine Boosters Association, which runs the bingo hall). Our options were standard fare: burgers, spaghetti dinners, chicken tenders, snacks, and desserts (many of them homemade, others from Tony's Donuts). Dinner for two (chicken tenders for me, a fish sandwich for you, plus sodas and chips) cost $16.

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NICK And they were pretty tasty, as comfort foods go. This isn't a food critique, of course, but it would have been reassuring to see at least one semi-healthy dinner option on that menu. Bingo isn't much of a fitness sport, after all. On the other hand, the concession stand isn't designed to win any awards, and it fits with the low-cost night-out theme.

DEIRDRE Were you surprised at how relatively inexpensive it was? I mean, whether you play 18 squares or 48, it's the same baseline price (ranging from $6-10 depending on the night of the week), and adding the winner-take-all papers only jacks up the total by $8. As both Paul and Gary Lamson told us multiple times, "it's cheaper than a night at the movies."

NICK That makes for a good tagline, but they are basically wrong. As we learned the first night, nobody doesn't play the winner-take-all games, so that's more like $12-18. A ticket at the Clarks Pond Cinemagic, the closest mainstream movie theater, costs $9.50. I suppose if you stick to the $6 Wednesday night option and abstain from the winner-take-all games, which is where the real money is (five or six winners at $100-500 each), you have a case. It's affordable — if you're comfortable calling gambling affordable — but it sure seems like a different category of "entertainment" than going to the movies.

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  Topics: News Features , Games, Gambling, bingo
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