Plugged inElectronic technology jolts traditional bingo hall operationsElectronic technology is changing the way bingo is being played. It is also changing who is playing and how much is being wagered and won. In fact, bingo games are almost becoming as sophisticated as the multi-colored, multi-line video slot machines.
This change started some years ago and even though most bingo halls still have cards and daubers, today it's more than likely that "little old lady from Pasadena" is playing with a hand-held, full color radio frequency bingo unit-and playing more cards per session than she ever thought possible.
The biggest change in the last 10 years has been the electronic bingo device that automatically daubs a number as that number is called. Other units require players to press "B3" and "Enter" into the machine with the "enter" instantly marking as many as 500 electronic cards. Electronic bingo, sometimes referred to as e-bingo, is definitely for players who want to play more without the fear of carpal tunnel syndrome through excessive daubing.
"Electronic bingo keeps everyone on the right game and in the right session and it is completely accountable," said Calvin Nicholson, director of product marketing for GameTech International, a leading supplier of electronic bingo equipment. "We just upgraded the bingo hall management system at the Suncoast (Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas) with our AllTrak2. The system controls point of sales, player tracking, inventory control, merchandise sales, snack bar, cash control, payout control, and provides all the required reports."
Tied into AllTrak2 are the portable electronic bingo daubers or TED units. TED originally stood for "the electronic dauber" and is now a commonly used name. Players sit with a TED or walk to a stationary player terminal and log on using a number received when purchasing games.
"Electronic bingo does everything and there are no errors," said Nicholson. "Best of all, players never miss a winning bingo. They also benefit because the system is gathering a profile on them and learning their favorite games. We're at a point now where there are so many options waiting to be created, approved, and put into operation."
The devices themselves are continually improving in terms of color quality, picture definition, and capabilities. Some machines now have picture-in-picture capabilities, allowing players to watch one of 10 or 20 television stations while playing bingo.
Benefits and growth opportunitiesSharon Smith, president of Creative Bingo Solutions in Palm Springs, Calif., consults with bingo operators and assists in opening new bingo halls. She has seen dramatic e-bingo growth across the country.
"One of the impressive aspects of e-bingo is that units are compatible with computerized software for accounting purposes," said Smith. "This makes it much easier to comply with internal control and it also gives the bingo manager more time to service customers. Rather than sitting at a desk manually adding up totals for paper and games and everything else, the manager can take care of his or her employees and listen to customers."
One of the newest electronic bingo rooms is at Route 66 Casino in Albuquerque, N.M. Robert Benavidez, the casino's bingo manager, said his player count has tripled since opening six months ago. "There were about 120 players at our first session and now we're averaging over 400. It's going to keep growing because we built the room to hold 850."
Benavidez said e-bingo is the only way bingo halls are going to survive in the future. He is proud that 80 percent to 90 percent of his customers are buying electronic cards, while most other halls, according to him, are at 50 percent to 60 percent.
States regulate how many cards a player can buy within one machine and also the number of machines. At Route 66, Benavidez carries 600 cards in each machine, but said there are some places that have as many as 1,000. He limits his players to two machines.
"There can be problems with overplaying," said Benavidez. "Managers have to limit and set some parameters. If not, then you'll have several customers who buy $500 worth of cards on a machine and win all the time. There must be a level playing field. Also, limit the number of machines one player can buy. The best way to set up a new hall-and this is what we did-is visit the competition and see what they're doing and what rules they have. Then you have something to go by."
Paper or electronic?Even though Benavidez has a state-of-the-art bingo room at the Route 66 Casino, he realizes the importance of paper and daubers.
"We offer paper because bingo is a customer oriented game," he explained. "There are nights where one person with a 12-pack of paper is sitting next to someone who bought the maximum amount of cards in a machine. That's 600. But everyone is playing, talking and having fun. We maintain an integrity to the game and keep consistent rules and follow them."
Critics contend e-bingo allows players to buy more cards in a machine than someone who is only playing paper. When the e-bingo player starts winning more often, and statistics are showing they do, paper players will become disinterested and move away.
Smith doesn't believe there are any fully electronic bingo halls yet, although some are talking about it. The reasons are increased profits, efficiency, reduced labor, and security. She said an entire session, depending on the size of the room and number of players, could be operated with just three people.
Smith said every bingo room she consults with has packages where players buy a certain number of electronic cards and a certain amount of paper.
"If someone just bought a unit with 100 games," she said, "it would be boring. This way, the player is still playing traditional bingo and daubing numbers while the electronic unit does its thing."
At Arrow International, Bob Fulton believes paper and daubers will always be around. He is vice president of marketing for the Cleveland-based company, which manufactures and distributes traditional bingo products.
"You'll never get the traditional player to leave because bingo is a social interactive game," he said. "The day it becomes fully electronic is the day you lose the personal touch and the day bingo loses its soul. Bingo players are there for entertainment and recreation and this especially holds true in the charitable market. It's a night out with friends and neighbors."
Fulton said charitable bingo is not big enough to buy much electronic equipment since charitable games are played about twice a week with 100 players per session.
"Bingo players are observant and superstitious," he said, "and there are places-Texas is an example-where e-bingo has been removed and rooms are advertising paper only. Some have alternate nights where one night is paper and another is electronic."
The 'new' bingo playerSmith said the difference between those who enjoy the electronics and those who don't is still generational.
"There is an age gap between paper players and electronic bingo players," she said. "It's estimated that the average bingo player only daubs or marks three packs of paper or about 18 games. This limits what the bingo hall can offer in prize money, thus limiting profitability. In Las Vegas, e-bingo is in the forefront due to the higher payouts it affords.
GameTech's Nicholson said expanding electronics is creating new game concepts and innovative means of promoting them to players. This attracts better players and opens a door to market to new ones. All these options result in additional revenue for the operator.
Station Casinos in Las Vegas introduced a Progressive Jumbo Coverall Game that starts at $100,000 and could initially be won in 48 numbers or less. As the number moves up, so does the jackpot. The game's first jackpot reached $292,000 before being won.
Today, Station Casinos has two Progressive Jumbo Coverall Games: one in the afternoon and one at night.
"When players see higher payouts, they want to be a part of it," Smith said. "Making your room electronic is simply a matter of staying competitive." CJ
Bingo Suppliers at a glance
Looking to upgrade bingo products? Here a quick list of interested suppliers:
American Games Inc.
504 34th Ave.,
Council Bluffs, IA 51501
9900 Clinton Rd.,
Cleveland, OH 44144
Bingo West of Arizona
5609 W. Lathan St.,
Phoenix, AZ 85043
301 Louth Street, St.,
Catharines, Ontario L2S 3V6 Canada
1804-C Montreal Ct.,
Tucker, GA 30084
Creative Bingo Solutions
756 Vella Rd., Palm Springs,
2620 Highland Dr.,
Las Vegas, NV 89117
900 Sandhill Rd.,
Reno, NV 89521
International Gaming Systems
959 Ridgeway Loop Rd. #103,
Memphis, TN 38120
808 Century Blvd. #100,
Lansing, MI 48917
2620 South Highland Dr.,
Las Vegas, NV 89109
206 Wild Basin Rd. South, Bldg. B,
Austin, TX 78746
2750 Salt Springs Rd.,
Youngstown, OH 44509
5150 Campus Dr.,
Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462
(610) 825 7090
World Wide Press
801 River Dr.,
South Great Falls, MT 59405