When I was younger, bingo was a game of fancy played mostly by aging women as an inexpensive way to pass the time and socialize with fellow seniors. Times have changed dramatically. The technological age is turning gregarious bingo halls into mechanized game rooms designed to part the elderly with their entire pension check in a single session.
Walk into Delta St. Clair bingo hall in Toronto (pictured right), and you might think you’ve accidentally entered a restricted area of NASA’s command control center. Row upon row of tables equipped with touch-screen computer monitors in front of each seat line the spacious floor. But the monitors don’t direct high-tech equipment in outer space. They play bingo.
Gone are the days of professional bingo callers who take one ball at a time from a rotating cage, calling out the number to a crowd of players with their hearing aids turned to max volume. Instead, the called numbers are electronically decided with a random number generator (RNG) and displayed on each player’s computer monitor.
Fading are the days of daubers; those fat ink-laden markers designed to blot an entire space on a paper bingo card. At the moment, players can still elect to use a paper bingo card and dauber, but not many do so when simply touching the screen in the appropriate spot marks off an electronic bingo card just the same. And that’s only if they set their game to manual – automatic card marking can be toggled on, removing the last vestige of the traditional experience from the game altogether.
If playing the hall’s communal electronic bingo game isn’t fast enough for patrons, they can alternatively choose to play individual, computerized games that take place in a matter of mere seconds, eating through inserted credits even faster.
Electronic Bingo Invading Canada, Threatens Rise in Problem Gambling
The Canadian province of Ontario is the latest region where electronic bingo is taking over the traditional form of the game. Operators claim that the mechanized devices have been installed to revitalize interest in a slowly dying breed of gambling amusement. But in reality, the high-tech bingo machines seem like little more than a way to part patrons with their money faster than ever.
While charitable organizations who receive a percentage of the revenue from bingo games are lauding the new format (as their coffers fill at record speed), others fear a new genre of problem gambling is on the horizon.
Throughout the years, I’ve known many senior women who looked forward to their weekly bingo night like a child awaiting their birthday or Christmas morning. It was the highlight of their week, and only cost a few dollars for hours of entertainment. Due to the vastly increased speed and incessant availability of today’s electronic bingo games, analysts are pointing to an inevitable rise in gambling addiction.
Kevin Harrigan, a gambling researcher at Waterloo University, said high-tech bingo halls are “under the radar of people that live in these communities, and under the radar maybe even of municipal politicians.
“They’re not described as a casino,” Harrigan continued, but “if you have one facility with over 400 machines where you can gamble every 1.5 seconds, that’s a pretty significant gambling facility in your neighbourhood.”
Still, operators and charities insist the games are good for the community, comparing the higher revenue results to the steady 10% annual decline experienced over the last few years.
“It was a very tired product,” said the Ontario Charitable Gaming Association’s executive director, Lynn Cassidy. “We actually had charitable programs that closed, laid off staff because they weren’t able to generate enough funds.”
In British Columbia, the proliferation of electronic gambling is far beyond that of Ontario, where slot machines, electronic table games and electronic bingo games have all been positioned within the province’s bingo halls.