Bingo: Strategic draw for locals |

Bingo: Strategic draw for locals

Rob Sabo
Pam Fields calls out bingo numbers for hundreds of hopeful winners at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, NV.

Imagine: Bright lights pulsing, DJ spinning hot beats on the turntables, a room bristling with hipster energy.

And then the call: “N-45.” “G-60” — Bingo!

“Cosmic Bingo” on weekend nights is one way JA Nugget hopes to market the game to younger crowds and increase participation in the game. The Nugget’s efforts may draw new players once the property moves its bingo game to newly renovated space on the casino floor, but bingo is hardly a significant revenue generator at northern Nevada casinos — revenue in Washoe County for bingo is down 30 percent from a decade ago, the Gaming Control Board reports.

JA Nugget and the Sands run the two largest bingo operations in Washoe County. In February four licensed bingo operators in the county took in a combined win of $81,000 and netted $1.34 million in the preceding 12 months, the Gaming Control Board reports.

Statewide, the Gaming Control Board tracked 39 bingo operations in February — down from 42 locations the previous year. Total revenues from bingo were $489,000 for the month and $4.85 million for the trailing 12 months.

Richard Wells, president of Wells Gaming Research, says the win on bingo isn’t really significant because the numbers just aren’t large enough to make bingo by itself a commercially viable game.

The real benefit for casino operators, Wells says, is that bingo draws local customers, a primary revenue driver for neighborhood casinos.

“Locals most of the time also will gamble at slot machines during breaks in bingo sessions,” Wells says. “That additional slot revenue economically justifies the bingo operation by itself. The most important part of bingo is that it’s an offering that locals like and it attracts locals to the casino on a regular basis.”

Bingo is limited in the northern half of the state — in Washoe County, only the Sands Regency, JA Nugget, Peppermill Resort Spa and Casino and Cal-Neva are licensed to operate bingo games, Wells says. Bingo has a much stronger following in Clark County, especially at neighborhood casinos such as Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, which last May opened a multi-million-dollar, 400-seat bingo hall.

“Bingo is a mainstay with Station Casinos since the opening of The Casino in 1976, which within a year expanded to include a bingo hall and was thus renamed Bingo Palace (now Palace Station). Since then, bingo has been an incremental part of our gaming offerings at all of our Station Casinos’ properties and the addition of the bingo room at Green Valley Ranch completed that,” says Glen Meadows, corporate director of ancillary gaming for Station Casinos. “We wanted to provide our guests with the easy access of having bingo at all of our properties and the nearby demographic made it seem like the perfect fit. Additionally, bingo guests in turn support the other amenities we offer on property in between sessions, from playing slots to dining.”

Some northern Nevada properties, such as the Peppermill, spice up their attractions by running large bingo tournaments — the Peppermill last week wrapped up its $15,000 Bingo Blast tournament. Other properties, such as Red Lion Inn in Elko, use the game as a promotion to give slot players additional incentive to keep playing.

Dave Zornes, chief executive officer of the Red Lion, says bingo isn’t offered at Elko properties because the town lacks a large percentage of older clientele that tend to stick around all day playing bingo and head for slot games during breaks in the number-calling action. Elko casinos haven’t run a full-time bingo operation in more than a decade, Zornes says.

“A lot of local-type casinos in Las Vegas still have big bingo parlors, and I was just down in Arizona and some of the Indian casinos have bingo parlors. I think a lot of it depends on what size of market it’s in,” he says. “We play a free game on the machines just to give players a reason to hang around in the casino. They have to be playing but they don’t have to buy (bingo) cards.”

The Sands Regency in downtown Reno has a long-running bingo operation and has six different games starting throughout the day, every day. Bingo is a significant part of the Sands operational strategy, Chief Executive Officer Ferenc Szony says.

Carlton Geer, president and chief executive officer of JA Nugget, envisions weekends at the property’s new bingo parlor as a hub for Gen-Y hipsters who would flock to the property for the Truckee Meadow’s newest party scene.

Bingo at JA Nugget is moving from its longtime home in the lower level of the Nugget to the main casino floor as part of the property’s extensive renovation plans. Geer hopes that adding music and a DJ to the venue could help turn the game favored by seniors into an amenity enjoyed by a much younger crowd, much the same as some bowling alleys do on weekend nights with strobe lights and loud rock music.

“I look at bingo strategically,” Geer says. “If I present a really good bingo experience, I think it can be an attractor of business.”

JA Nugget runs several large bingo tournaments each year — its quarterly Bingo Blowout in the Rose Ballroom draws as many as 2,200 participants. The new bingo hall at JA Nugget allows the property to improve on its daily bingo events and increase attendance, Geer says.

“It differentiates us as a local property from the rest of the competition. We have to have innovative ways to differentiate our product from everyone else,” he says.

Changes in technology also could attract new crowds of younger bingo players, Wells says. Traditional bingo games are played with paper tickets marked with an ink dauber, with skilled players managing as many as 10 cards at a time as the caller shouts out the numbers.

New bingo halls offer hand-held electronic devices that track numbers across as many cards as players desire, which could prove attractive to people used to using hand-held smart phones, Wells says.

“New technology and upscale rooms attract a younger demographic attracted to new technology,” he says.