Playing The Game

Okay, enough on the background of the game. You're anxious to play. So how do you start? First, because you won't find the game out in the open, you ask anyone in a casino uniform where the Bingo action is conducted. (The "anyone" doesn't refer to dealers, by the way, but to change personnel, bell captains, even porters and front-desk people, but never dealers.)

Once you get there, you go to the Bingo cashier and buy your Bingo cards. Understand first that there are different prices for your cards. You can play for as little as $3 a session. The more expensive the card the more your payoff will be.

For instance, if you buy the cheapest card, and you are the only winner of that game you'll get $50 to $l00. Most Bingo is played on paper cards and you'll need a dauber (a special pen to mark your cards) which cost from 50 cents to a dollar and you can get them right there.

When you buy your bingo paper (actually a "pad") or card, there'll be four games on each sheet, so you're basically playing four games at a time. Sometimes they have a bonus game, which is played separately at the end of the session.

Now you choose your seat, smoking or non-smoking. Because the room fills up quickly, you might want to arrive early, choose a seat, and place a "reserved" sign there. If the casino doesn't provide signs, pick up a keno ticket and write "reserved" on it, along with the time of the session, and put it on the table or counter top where you want to sit.

Most Bingo sessions last about an hour and generally, each game is different. You might play straight Bingo or corners only, or postage stamps or diagonals. Each game type is illustrated on an electronic board for all to see.

Most of the time the Bingo caller will announce the game number and the color of the card (or paper) you're supposed to be using, along with the type of game you'll be playing. Always check to see that everything is in order before you start daubing.

As each number is called, it will be displayed on a number of television sets around the room. As the numbers are called you "daub" or mark them on your card. When you have a Bingo, you are to shout it out loud, but not deafening loud. As extra insurance, hold your hand in the air, the way you did as a school child who knew the answer to the teacher's question. Bingo!

But it is important to remember that you do not tear up your ticket yet for two reasons: first, the Bingo has to be verified and if it is not legitimate, the game will resume. And second, if it is legitimate, the casino plays a second game on the same card. For example, let's say they were playing straight Bingo only in game No. 1. After someone calls "Bingo" and it's verified, the game progresses to something like two straight Bingos ­ on the same card.

Once both games are completed it is time to go to the second official game. And since you get all your Bingo cards on the same tablet, you tear off the used one and set it aside.

Most Bingo rooms have an extra bonus game, usually called the coverall. A coverall means all the numbers must be marked on your card for it to be a winner. There are two ways the coverall might work.

First, it might be part of the last game played, a game that progresses from a Bingo to a coverall.

Second, it might be part of a separate ticket that starts with pre-selected numbers to save time. If it's the latter, you mark these based on a special electronic board that displays them for you.

Either way, when the coverall game starts, it is as if you are beginning it at mid-game. The prize of the coverall varies, depending on how many numbers it takes to find a winner or how the casino structures it-and it can be as high as $25,000.

Speaking of prize money, anything under $3,000 is paid off immediately in cash, although checks (chips) are sometimes used at some casinos. If this happens, you'll have to go to the casino cage to cash out. For large payoffs (more than $3,000), you must supply the casino with tax information. So, don't forget to include that information on your tax return come April!

It's very important to call Bingo as soon as you have a winner because the rules say winners must come from the last number called. In one instance recently, a woman was not attentive enough to the fact she had hit her Bingo. As the caller announced the next number, the lady realized she already had a Bingo. She called out, but it was too late. She demanded payment, but the rules were clearly posted and the caller instructed players about this before the game began, so it was not allowed and she was, let us say, a very unhappy camper.

By the same token, you don't want to be embarrassed if you happen to call Bingo and it's not true. (Better safe than sorry!) This happens at least once in every session in Las Vegas, usually because the Bingo that players think they have doesn't match the type of game being played.

For instance, if the game were the letter "T," you'd have to have a Bingo across the top row and down the "N" row (or an inverted or even sideways version of the same scheme). Often, players will get a Bingo under the "I" or "N" row and shout "Bingo," only to have an employee announce the mistake. Nobody's going to laugh. In fact, other players can often be heard expressing a sigh of relief because it means they still have a chance.

If you're wondering what the odds are of filling up a card in the Bingo coverall game when only 50 numbers or less are drawn, it's 799, 398 with 48 numbers; 407,856 with 49 numbers and 212, 085 with 50 numbers.

With 60 numbers, your chances are one in 715; with 59 numbers, one chance in 1,191.

But let's not get carried away with hitting the big one at big odds. Bingo is entertaining and inexpensive. It gives you a chance to sit down, socialize, maybe win a few dollars or get that roller-coaster adrenaline thrill we all crave at times. Oh, and don't forget the friendly, helpful personnel. The people who watch for your winning gestures and who call the cocktail waitress to get you a drink, work for a very small salary. If they treat you right and you win, a tip of any amount between 1 and 5 percent is much appreciated.