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Old-fashioned game brings in newer crowds

DEL MAR — The tension builds with every call.
“B-31,” the voice calls out. The anticipation grows still more. “I-52…N-20…” And then of a sudden, a sole voice cuts through the silent room: “BINGO!”
“They say it’s for old people, but there’s a lot of young people here,” said Sybil Politano, one of the bingo hall’s regulars.
Since May, the game of finding patterns on a card of letters and numbers has been taking place at the Surfside Race Place on the Del Mar Fairgrounds. And with charity bingo being a $ — – billion industry, the fairgrounds plans on keeping these sessions going.
“We’re a charity bingo,” said Dawn Ayles, bingo manager, friends of the fair. “We pay out what they buy in. We’re not like a casino where you’ve got all of the bank roll.”
Two of the biggest reasons people come to bingo is to see their friends here a couple nights a week and also the chance to win big money, explained Mark Sherman, technical operations manager. “We pay out over $5,000 in prizes guaranteed with just 65 people or more,” he said.
Politano, with Liane Hansen and Kathy Power have become affectionately known around the bingo hall as the Camp Del Mar Ladies. They show up two hours before game time to play dice and share in the camaraderie.
“You got to have an out in life, and bingo’s our out in life,” said Power. “Sometimes you have a lot of stress in your life, and it really is good because you get rid of a lot of the stress when you’re here and you forget about what’s happening at home or what you have to deal with.”
“Bingo is played on a 24 number card, where each game within the session is going to play a different pattern,” Sherman explained. “They range from a simple pattern like…the straight line all the way to a giant, crazy bow-tie or giant, crazy kite, which are more complex patterns that you really have to know what it looks like, otherwise there’s a good chance you’re going to miss your bingo,” Sherman said.
The electronic machines that are available for use do make spotting the patterns that much more easy. “Most of the traditional paper-players that we have will play the paper as well as the machine,” Sherman said.
What about any strategies in playing a good game?
“Strategies?” Politano said bemused. “It’s to pray to the bingo gods” she said. “It’s just luck.”
“Some people have more luck than others,” Hansen said. “And sometimes that is aggravating, yet you show up every week hoping that that week is your lucky week.”
“There is a strategy,” said Power. “You have to play according to the crowd, as many cards as you can.” Power agreed with her friend about it being a matter of luck, though. “It’s the card,” she added. “One card is all it takes to win, but you can increase your chances, if you buy more cards.”
That’s why Power opts to play the machines, because you can play a lot more and the competition is better, too, she explained. “One of the things about this place,” Sherman added, “we have seen a younger demographic in Del Mar than I’ve ever seen…People who are coming for a night out and they really seem to enjoy it.”
One of the more popular days offered are the Sunday afternoon sessions, Sherman said, because they show all of the NFL football games, especially the Chargers games.
The charities benefitting from the bingo sessions are Scy High School, Friends of the Fairground and Camp CBT.
Players must be 18 or older, with packages starting at $20. Bingo sessions begin at 7 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, with doors opening at 5 p.m. Sunday sessions start at 3 p.m. with doors opening at 1 p.m. For more information, visit