Bingo is popular everywhere, although it is on the decline in some places. In Mississippi though, bingo has never been hotter – even though there are no bingo halls.
A Close-Up Look at Bingo in Mississippi
South Mississippi is home to a dozen casinos and more than 30 charitable groups that host bingo games in church halls and American Legion posts throughout the state’s gulf coast region and surprisingly, there is room for additional growth. Bingo players spent about $93 million USD in bingo halls during the 2013 fiscal year. Of that, about $14.7 million was used to support projects run by the organizations that host the games.
Sonny Weathersby, who is the director of the Charitable Gaming Division of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, told reporters that people frequently call the division’s offices inquiring about whether it is possible to open a bingo hall. “You can’t do that,” he stated.
All bingo operators in the state of Mississippi must be registered as nonprofits with the Internal Revenue Service and the Secretary of State’s office, and charitable bingo venues are not considered competition for casinos. “Most of the people that play bingo have been playing it all their lives,” Weathersby said. “Bingo players aren’t slot players.”
There are several successful bingo venues throughout the area, and many offer games at least a few nights a week. The higher the jackpots, the more people show up to play. “When the numbers are up, there won’t be a chair in the house,” said Gary Coon, bingo chairman for Gautier’s American Legion Post 1992. There, the same people usually sit in the same seats, and weekly bingo jackpots are $675. If no one wins, the next week’s jackpot is $700.
Regulations allow charitable venues to use as much as sixty percent of bingo income for expenses and winnings, but the other forty percent must be used for charity. The state’s gaming commission keeps bingo venues honest by auditing nonprofits once or twice annually and checking on games either weekly or monthly. In Gautier, the American Legion uses its charitable earnings to help veterans who are down on their luck, to send students to Boys and Girls State, and to help others who are in need, including victims of natural disasters.
Supporting charity is one reason 78-year old Joann Mathis says she has enjoyed bingo three times weekly for the past 35 years. Like many players, she occupies the same seat at each game and has a lucky bingo number. Hers is 13. “I was born on Friday the 13th,” she stated.
Bingo and the venues where the game is played are biggest north of Jackson. The reason there are less venues further south? “Hurricane Katrina got them,” said Weathersby. Is there hope for commercial bingo halls in Mississippi’s future? State legislators aren’t saying.
Updated : June 19, 2014