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I finally got to play some real Bingo

By John Toth The Bulletin

Last year I finally got a chance to learn how to play blackjack correctly so that I have some chance of winning against the dealer. I learned the intricacies of betting smart at the West Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s Casino Night.

More recently, I decided to play some Bingo at ActionS’ fundraiser called Pistols & Purses Flamingo Bingo. Winners got purses or handguns. There were, I want to say, a dozen or so games scheduled.

I wanted the gun prize, especially the 9mm. Glock. That’s what I was after. I told Sharon, my better half and The Bulletin’s Bingo column editor, that we should go play Bingo at the ActionS event. Sharon wanted to win one of the purses.

ActionS is a non-profit community organization that provides help for seniors in the county. The group describes itself this way on its webpage: “ActionS, Inc. of Brazoria County serves the needs & tries to enrich the lives of the seniors of Brazoria County. ActionS services and programs enable our seniors to remain part of their community while maintaining their dignity, independence, and purpose in life.”

One of the programs provides free lunches to seniors at local centers or delivers to their homes.

It’s for a good cause, I told Sharon, and I have not played real Bingo like this.

The closest I ever got was in one of the prisons in Brazoria County, where my friend, Arthur Velasquez, was the warden in 1986. I was working at the time at the Houston Chronicle, covering the greater Brazoria County area.

Velasquez called me up one day and asked if I would be interested in writing a story about Bingo games a charity group was conducted in the prison. It was all for fun. Prizes were donated by the group, and the inmates played for free.

After two long years of covering killings in the six prisons in the county, this was a breath of fresh air. The killing stopped in the fall of 1985, and this would be a “gee whiz” story I had been looking for. I pitched it to my editors the next morning, and they wanted the story yesterday.

That Thursday, a photographer and I went to the prison auditorium to watch the inmates play Bingo. I interviewed a bunch of them, along with guards assigned to the auditorium, and Velasquez. I wrote the story that night. It just about wrote itself. It was a fun event, and I had a good time.

Maybe I should be playing Bingo, I thought. The inmates had a lot of fun, and there were no problems. I sat among them as they marked the numbers on the screen on their cards. I was working, though, and didn’t pay attention to details. I was more concerned about getting the gist of the event and was writing the story in my mind already.

The story ran on Page 1 (which was always my ultimate goal). I hit “Bingo” that day in the Chronicle. But then something else happened.

“John, you got me in trouble,” said Velasquez on the phone.

“Why? It was a good story. What’s wrong?”

The state agency that controls Bingo games called him and told him he had to stop the games because they were not licensed.

That, of course, required that I write another story. And when the agency reinstated the charity game in the prison, I had to write a third story about that. It was like three “Bingos” for me for the price of one.

We had a good run with those stories, but I still had not paid any attention to how to play Bingo. So, at the ActionS event, I finally sat down and got to play it.

I didn’t win the Glock, but I had a great time - once I paid attention to the rules.

“What’s with all the letters they’re calling out?” I asked Sharon. “I thought we just had to keep track of the numbers.”

After overcoming this little obstacle, I settled into the games and even came close to winning a couple of times. Plus, the event included dinner, catered by On The River Restaurant in Freeport, which always makes for great dining.

One more accomplishment checked off. Next on the list is ice or roller skating. I never learned how to do that as a child.

I could have taken care of it on our last cruise because the ship had an ice skating rink, and it was free with the cruise. But maybe the time has run out on this one. I would have felt like an old fool inching along the railing and falling on my rear while all those youngsters zoomed by me.

Maybe on the next cruise, I’ll inquire about a private lesson with the doors of the rink closed to the public. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep on playing blackjack and Bingo.

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