High-stakes bingo makes its mark

Jul 3, 2001 8:55 AM

Bingo has always been the ultimate low roller game. After all, where else in the casino can you sit for hours, hunkered down over a bingo card, nursing a Budweiser - all for just a few bucks a day?

While many of the perceptions remain true, don’t tell Audrey Sheard that bingo’s for low rollers. Two weeks ago, the tourist from Austin, Texas hit a 51-spot coverall for a hearty $52,125 progressive jackpot at the new Bingo Room at the Plaza Hotel downtown.

"By offering the biggest payouts, we feel locals and visitors alike will find the Plaza a good place to play bingo," said Bobby Taylor, the Plaza’s Bingo Room manager.

Taylor added that the Super Progressive Bonanza jackpots are available at all eight bingo sessions, and that a $1,000 consolation jackpot is guaranteed at six of the sessions.

"Ours is the biggest consolation in town," Taylor said.

It’s safe to say bingo is no longer the Blue Hair Special.

Most of the bingo action in town takes place at the locals casinos: Station Casinos, Gold Coast and Suncoast, Arizona Charlie’s, Castaways, Ellis Island, Jerry’s Nugget and Sam’s Town, to name a few.

Typically, the casino offers a full day of bingo sessions, starting from about 9 a.m. and running to 11 p.m. Bingo games cost anywhere from $3 to $10 to $20 and more. Games vary, as do the amenities.

The Suncoast, for instance, offers eight Cashball Jackpots in addition to its regular Bingo Plus games daily. Free drinks are dispensed throughout the day, and players at the morning session get free donuts.

Some parlors offer a progressive, such as the aforementioned Plaza, as well as places like the New Frontier, which has a You Pick 8 progressive that starts building from $2,000.

And while there isn’t a daily presence of bingo at the major Strip hotels, some of the heavyweights have started to offer high stakes bingo to its players.

Caesars Palace, for instance, just finished its $25,000 Bingo Bash for Cash last month, which closely followed on the heels of its $100,000 Bacchus Bingo Bash. The latter awarded prizes as high as $25,000 and $30,000 a game.

Not to be outdone, The Venetian this fall will host the second annual Bingo Magic: The World Championship of Bingo. The tournament will offer $1.25 million in cash and prizes with the final game of the event having a guaranteed million-dollar annuity.

In addition, the World Championship also features an insured prize of $5 million as an annuity if won in 46 numbers or less.

"The high stakes nature of the games will be exciting and will lend itself to riveting play," said Rob Goldstein, president of The Venetian.

While large jackpots and prizes are finding their way into bingo parlors throughout the city, bingo doesn’t generate the revenue of other games. Not directly, anyway.

Among all the games in Nevada, bingo has the worst win percentage - 2.07 percent for fiscal 2000. Moreover, the total money won was a mere $3.3 million, which is about how much quarter slot machines won in an average day last year.

So why have bingo parlors been sprouting like weeds?

"Bingo is big business, but not in the sense of hold percentages," said the manager of a locals casino along the Boulder Strip. "We get 2,000 to 3,000 people through here every day, and they eat in the buffets and coffee shop, and they stop and play the slots.

"In that sense, Bingo is a kind of loss leader, like in the old days when casinos offered free scotch and soda to get the customers into the seats."