YOUNGSTOWN — Bingo games, once valuable social events and fundraisers for communities, are in decline throughout the state, according to churches, veterans groups and nonprofit organizations.
Some blame the slow disappearance of bingo games on Ohio’s restrictive smoking law, while others point to a faltering economy, competition for gaming dollars and the increasing costs of operating a large bingo hall.
Joe Sferra, owner of Crown Wholesale in Youngstown, a distributor of bingo supplies, said he has seen a 15 to 20 percent decline in
Ohio business during the past two years. He thinks the increasing prices of gasoline and natural gas in a slowing economy have had a “suppressing effect” on bingo play.
St. Joseph the Provider in the Youngstown suburb of Campbell is one of many churches that have stopped holding bingo nights.
Bingo night used to draw up to 200 people, but in the past three years attendance has been too poor to justify the cost of running the games, said Chuck Zamary, who has helped with the church’s bingo for the past two decades.
The proceeds had been used to keep tuition costs down at the parish school, he said.
Three years ago, the diocese declared that parish halls were part of parish schools and prohibited smoking during bingo as a result.
The decline started after that, Zamary said.
Some bingo operators in Pennsylvania, which allows smoking during games, say Ohio players do leave the state to play. Paul
Vanord, bingo manager for American Legion Post 299 in Sharon, Pa., said he has seen a significant increase in Ohio players since the Ohio smoking ban went into effect. Many come from Ohio’s border cities like Hubbard and Niles, he said.
Bingo operators also attribute some of the decline to the emergence of electronic gaming machines such as Tic Tac Fruit in bars and other businesses, and the lure of both higher bingo payoffs and gambling resorts across state lines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Sferra noted that in Pennsylvania, where Bingo jackpots are higher, his business has declined far less, down 5 percent in the past two years.
Zamary said the smoking ban was a contributing factor in the end of bingo at St. Joseph’s, but other developments, including the rapidly declining economy in Youngstown, also played a role.
“You can’t blame it all on no-smoking,” Zamary said.
Other problems with maintaining the games include increases in the cost of utilities and advertising, and larger jackpot payoffs in an effort to attract players.
“It’s not just us,” Zamary said of St. Joseph’s loss of bingo business. “You’re going to see more that have to close.”