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Casinos bettin’ on bingo to attract players

Sep 27, 2004 12:10 PM

The game of bingo has really taken off in Las Vegas in recent years. And although most of the action takes place in so-called "locals" casinos (Stations, Coast Casinos, Arizona Charlie’s, etc.), you can still play bingo on the Strip at the Frontier.

Even though bingo is probably as simple a game as there is in the casino, it would be helpful to understand how the game operates, how much money it costs to play and what kind of play strategy — if any — works.

As noted, most of the bingo action in town takes place at the locals casinos: Station Casinos, Coast Resorts, Arizona Charlie’s, 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. Free drinks are dispensed throughout the day, and players at the morning session get free donuts.

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

"Ours is the biggest consolation in town," said the manager of the bingo room on the Boulder Strip.

Nevertheless, it’s safe to say bingo is no longer the casino’s blue hair special.

Some rooms offer a progressive, such as the Frontier’s 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 their players.

One major Strip operator, for instance, once offered a $25,000 Bingo Bash for Cash, which closely followed on the heels of a $100,000 Bingo Bash. The latter awarded prizes as high as $25,000 and $30,000 a game.

Another major Strip casino hosts an annual Bingo Magic: The World Championship of Bingo. The tournament in the past has posted $1.25 million in cash and prizes with the final game of the event having a guaranteed million dollar annuity bingo prize.

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

"The high stakes nature of the games is exciting and lends itself to riveting play," said a highly-placed casino manager on the Strip. "We wish the best of luck to each and every competitor."

While large jackpots and prizes are being posted in 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 — about 2 percent or less every year. Moreover, the total money won by all the casinos every year is about how much the quarter slot machines win in an average day.

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," he said.

Indeed, a $100,000 loss leader will get the customers every time.