PUBLISHED IN THE TORONTO STAR MAY 20 1996
BY NICK KREWEN
Most people know The SkyDome as the home of The Toronto Blue Jays and football's Argonauts, or as a cavernous rock concert venue hosting the likes of The Rolling Stones and Elton John.
But the world's biggest bingo parlor?
Organizers of Bingomania 1 are hoping that the overwhelming popularity of the board game and a guaranteed giveaway this Saturday (May 20) of $250,000 -- including a final game $100,000 jackpot -- will lure a steady stream of traffic through the Dome turnstiles for a record-setting performance.
Toronto already occupies The Guinness World Book Of Records for the current world house record for bingo, established back on August 19, 1983m when 15,756 Bingomaniacs vied for a similar $250,000 contest at the CNE.
Dan Gregoroff of Matthew Scott Communications, co-ordinator of Bingomania 1, is hoping to eclipse the present record by several thousand.
"We're looking at 20,000 people," says Gregoroff, who hopes this Mother of all bingos will pay seven-figure after-expense dividends to Variety -- The Children's Charity and the non-profit citizens' group ProAction -- Help Our Cops Help Kids.
Tickets may seem expensive at $130 a pop, but Gregoroff says the price is a bargain to frequent bingo enthusiasts.
"For regular bingos, like a $1200 bingo, players typically will spend $30 to $45," he explains. "Some of the monster bingos that have $50,000 to $80,000 jackpots usually charge an $80 admission ticket . So for an avid bingo player to spend $100 a session for bingo isn't unusual."
The $130 entitles the ticket holder to receive a Bingomania kit that includes a lap board, a dabber, an official program, and a 9-up board pad that allows them to play all 22 games. Jackpots range from $2,000 to $12,000, with the exception of the $100,000 final game. An auxiliary seat is also provided for added comfort.
The cry of "Bingo!" was first heard in 1929, a few months prior to the Wall Street stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Influenced by the centuries-old European game of Lotto, Bingo was invented by former toy salesman Edwin S. Lowe, who reportedly found his inspiration during a trip from Atlanta to Jacksonville, when he stopped at a roadside carnival and watched a similar amusement called Beano.
Bingo now generates one billion dollars yearly in Ontario alone, according to Jerry Root, president of the Registered Gaming Suppliers Of Ontario -- formerly The Bingo Hall Owners Association. He reports there are 210 bingo halls currently operating in Ontario, and in 1993, he says over 33 million people played bingo to the tune of $900 million in this province. Root estimates that bingo accounted for $1.2 billion worth of activity in 1994.
Dan Gregoroff says interest in attending Bingomania 1 has been expressed from Manchester, England to Fort Wayne, Indiana.
June Ducharme plans to be there. The 53-year-old retired airline driver from Timmins has chartered two buses for 94 people, some who flew into the Northern city from James Bay at an additional cost of $500. They are willing to pay an additional $240 for bus fare and endure an eight-hour drive to Toronto to attend Bingomania 1.
"It's the money," says Ducharme, who has been playing bingo since she was 12.
"Some people will go anywhere for a big jackpot."
THANKS: Mitch Potter, Lorrie Logan
©1996, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink
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