Bingo on the beach is more than a game

Kathleen Riscen was meticulous about lining up – face down – the nine sheets of paper to form a grid. After slight adjustments, she pulled appropriate lengths of Scotch Magic Tape from its spool and secured the papers. When she was satisfied with her handiwork, she flipped her masterpiece over to reveal 27 bingo “cards” ready for playing.

“I’m a pro at this,” the Loris resident said, fitting her Andy Warhol-esque work of art to her portion of the table. “I’m an addict.”

Riscen, a native of Dublin, Ireland, has been a fixture at the American Legion Hall in Little River on Wednesdays and Sundays for the past seven years. “I’ll be coming here forever I guess,” she said.

Peggy Matkins of Little River, a Wednesday and Sunday player at the Legion for three years, marks her cards as she speaks and explains that she wants to identify numbers to coordinate with specific games, such as “Big HI” and “Letter T.”

“It makes it easy for us to find the numbers when we mark the cards,” she said as she arranges them on the table she shares with Riscen.

“We live for Wednesdays and Sundays,” Riscen added.

About 150 people play bingo at the American Legion Hall each week, and John Popa, manager of bingo, emphasized that all the money is for charity. This location, though, isn’t the only venue in town. Players choose from at least a dozen sites between Horry and Brunswick counties. State regulations in both North Carolina and South Carolina require bingo licenses be issued to nonprofit organizations. Proceeds, therefore, go to charity.

Cost to play, types of games played and amount of prize money awarded vary widely. Beach Bingo on Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach has a variety of charges beginning at $1 with a prize of $20. VFW Post 7288 and Elks Lodge 2679, both in Calabash, N.C., have minimum $10 packets with a variety of cash winnings.

Rich Wood, bingo chairman at VFW, said that about 70 people attend each Thursday and proceeds benefit the Post. He added that everyone is a volunteer.

Frank Blue, bingo chairman at the Elks Lodge, explained that about 100 people attend the Tuesday night bingo with proceeds benefiting the Lodge and other local charities. The workers are also volunteers.

Rosina Martere of Sunset Beach, N.C., said she’s a bingo regular at both places.

“I do not miss,” she said.

“I like to come with my nana and my mom,” said Alicia Foerster, 18, of Longs, as the three women prepare for the games to start at the VFW. Foerster said she gets the $22 15-game pack and occasionally wins. “When I win, I just blow it,” she said of the prize money. “[Bingo’s] a game of chance but it’s fun.”

Roberta Moody of Surfside Beach said she plays bingo regularly at Beach Bingo.

“It’s fun to be here,” she said. “[Bingo] is like the ONLY thing to do in Myrtle Beach.”

She propped her electronic machine for easier viewing of bingo numbers and readied herself to hear Cierra Littles call the games. For an extra fee, players have a choice of punching the numbers into the machine when they are called instead of marking papers.

Markers are a big item. Veteran bingo players have a rainbow array of Primo, Dabbin’ Fever and other brands of markers for their cards. Cris Boyd of Shallotte, N.C., has nearly a dozen standing at attention at the Elks Lodge.

“I use different colors for different games,” she said and added that she has come to bingo at the Lodge and Calabash VFW Post for eight years. “When I’m not winning, I take a different color for every number.”

Bingo is a centuries-old game started in Italy in 1530. France became aware of it in the late 1770s, and in the 1800s it was used to help German students learn spelling, math and history. It came to England about the same time but didn’t reach the U.S. until 1929 and was called beano. It was renamed when a contestant mistakenly called out “bingo.”

The game isn’t, as some people think, for women over 60. Bingohall.org states 90 percent of bingo players in the U.S. are younger than 50, and studies indicate that 80 percent of the world’s bingo players are women between ages 30 and 50. The game is attracting younger people because of the attraction of online bingo and the variety of formations on the cards. Bingo venues across the Grand Strand provide players with explanations of the games, costs, prizes and restrictions.

“I love the excitement of it and seeing my number come up,” said Terrie McKittrick of Calabash at the VFW.

That same night, Adam Schultz of Carolina Shores, N.C., bought a pair of $10 packets for him and his wife, Mila.

“I love screaming bingo! It’s exciting,” Mila said.

Players explain that they like the challenge bingo offers, they enjoy the night out and they make friends with other players. They don’t feel guilty about the money they spend because it goes to charity.

“For any organization, it’s the main money maker,” said Jay Valkenburg of Calabash, who works the VFW bingo game.

“I like to play the game,” Boyd said. “I just wish I could win more often.”