Nebraska charitable bingo gaming becomes an endangered species.
The entertainment of bingo is reaching fewer and fewer people. The “regulars” are declining in number. There’s a law of attrition at work here. As older folks stop going out, no one is taking their places at the bingo tables. That creates a shortfall in revenue for dozens of Nebraska charities. During the past 10 years, charitable organizations have seen the negative effects of big business gambling. Bingo halls are shutting down left and right. The records of the Nebraska Department of Revenue indicate that in 2011, seven bingo operations closed their doors.
One of those charitable bingo-style operations was the Holy Name parish. Established in Omaha in the 1950s, it flourished for 40 years. The church and its elementary school relied on the $250,000 per year in bingo revenue. Unfortunately for the church however, the state lottery came into existence in 1993, followed by casinos. Soon after the advent of the lottery and big business gambling, church administrators could see and feel the writing on the wall, until there was no longer a financial benefit to continuing their bingo operations.
Diminishing competition among bingo halls does not mean increased profits
In 1993 there were around 279 Nebraska bingo licenses. Today there are only 93. Bingo in Grand Island tells the story well. Bingo used to be played every night of the week in Grand Island. The town is now down to just three bingo operations: Elks Club, VFW Post 1347 and the Knights of Columbus Grand Island Chapter. Seven nights a week of bingo is just a thing of the past.
The three remaining bingo establishments are all experiencing a drop in income. The collateral damage of that diminished revenue involves a difficult decrease in church contributions. The difficulty arises when churches have to run their activities with less money. Ultimately it’s the community that suffers. A necessary fire engine replacement can’t be made, or youth activities are cut. Industries other than just bingo are endangered due to lottery, casinos and insufficiently protective provisions in the current gaming laws. Thoroughbred horse racing has also suffered the effects of statewide gambling alternatives.
History of the Gambling in Nebraska
In 2002, to finance local government, the state offered every town the option of opening keno operations. Immediately, bars throughout Nebraska became gambling establishments. While keno wagering has steadily risen, pickle cards have fallen. For those who have never played, pickle cards are the paper pull-tab tickets game that supports nonprofit organizations.
In 1993, $177 million was wagered in Nebraska on pickle cards. That amount has dropped drastically, and in 2011 the total was only $28.7 million. The primary necessity of the bingo industry is to attract new players. A younger generation needs to be the focal point. The perception of bingo is one of slow action and old folks’ entertainment. It’s not accurate. Bingo today is fast, furious and varied. There’s Instant Bingo; Tournament Bingo; Jackpot Bingo; Team Bingo; Poker Bingo; 30, 75, 80 and 90 Ball Bingo. The game has already been adapted to the 21st Century. In many places in the U.S., men and women of all ages are turning on to the social enjoyment and challenge of bingo games. “Fun” still and forever defines bingo. That message should and can be transmitted to the now generation. The media is effective, but it must be utilized. Playing dead doesn’t work.
Necessary changes in Nebraska
According to Steve Schatz, retired Policy Manager, Charitable Gaming Division, Department of Revenue, the state can make adjustments that would be beneficial to bingo, and hopefully reverse the charitable gaming revenue decline in Nebraska. One innovation would be the establishment of a simulcast bingo. This involves a video feed of bingo games to locations outside the live bingo operation. The purpose would be to decrease the costs and increase the pots, to lure former and future bingo players.
Schatz also suggests changes in the Nebraska gaming laws. He is, however, pessimistic, and believes that the nonprofit organizations can’t get it together sufficiently to lobby for those changes. Energy and dedication are all that’s needed. It’s essential that bingo operators wake up and begin to use the media to spread information about bingo innovations. It’s also essential that the Nebraska State Legislature take the bit in its mouth and tweak the gaming laws to protect the endangered bingo, horse racing and pickle card industries. Competition is the way of life in America.