Baltimore fans get ample opportunity to heed bingo's call

From big halls to the Hippo, game options cover bases

Scene: clubs, bars, nightlife

November 20, 2003|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

Baltimore is a bingo-loving city.

Speckling the town are churches, local civic clubs and community halls that for decades have offered regular rounds of the age-old game.

And with a few local bingo houses running daily and late-night operations, local residents can get their game on wherever and whenever they so desire.

But many players have their favorite lucky spot and return to it time and again.

Heath Anshel, manager of Bingo World on Belle Grove Road, said that some of his regular customers will even arrive hours before the start of the first 7:30 p.m. game.

"Some of them get there as early as 5 p.m. to get their same seat," said Anshel, who is occasionally met with a long line of anxious players when he opens the doors to the 2,190-seat venue.

Players' determination to stick with a single location can be as strong as their resolve to play in the first place.

For some hard-core bingo devotees, like Lisa Renier, who always plays the "big nights" at Bingo World, it's the spot's hefty jackpots that make its games attractive.

"Their payouts are better than any of the other bingos" in town, said Renier, who, with ink stampers in hand, was buying cards last Saturday in hopes of winning "some big money."

Dreams of scoring a few bucks or even a small fortune lead Renier and other serious competitors to play for hours on end, marking the grid-like playboard with quickness and efficiency.

Still others - the more casual players - tend to think of their game sessions as pure recreation.

Agnes Malczewski, a Canton resident who fancies Patapsco Bingo in South Baltimore, said her regularly scheduled games burn idle hours and offer respite from life's daily stresses.

"[It's] to kill time, I guess - to keep your mind off of things," she said, while chatting with friends during an intermission from play.

And then there are those, like Highlandtown native Roger Dimick, for whom bingo means something more than just a cheap thrill or a temporary diversion.

Bingo, a game he's been at for more than 35 years, has become an integral part of his life, shaping both his regular routine and his personality.

"I was born in a bingo hall, basically," the 42-year old joked.

Along with his five siblings, he whiled away childhood afternoons playing four-corner games at Our Lady of Pompei Church on Claremont Street.

The regular rounds kept him off the streets and away from trouble, he said.

And when he grew older, Dimick took his grandmothers for game nights at the Fullerton Manor Bingo on Belair Road. Their outings, he said, were a family bonding experience. But when his grannies passed away, the bar manager needed to find a new way to maintain his bingo-centered lifestyle.

The solution: Play at work.

Last year, Dimick, who oversees operations at the Hippo on Eager Street, started a weekly game night at the neighborhood bar.

The Wednesday sessions are somewhat of a departure for the saloon, known mostly in the gay community for its drag shows and dance parties.

Nevertheless, "Gay Bingo" has become a very popular event, now drawing about 100 patrons each week.

So what is it about the old-fashioned game that attracts throngs to this particular bar?

Dimick says it's community spirit. "Anyone can go anywhere to play bingo - but it's a little different here. It's like a family," he said.

Dimick, who emcees the event and calls the numbers for each game, knows the regular players. And when new bingo buffs walk through the door, he makes an effort to learn a little something about them as well.

But it's not just the customer-oriented atmosphere that the players love.

It's also Dimick's dry wit - his comedic talent and biting commentary - that keeps them coming back.

On one November evening, his sarcasm and sexual innuendo were sprinkled between almost every number/letter combo that he called.

Just minutes after the round began, someone shouted "Bingo!" and the crowd of losers moaned in frustration.

"Hold your cards, it's Aunt Rita," Dimick exclaimed, pointing to a middle-aged guy who was jumping up and down, play sheet in hand.

It seems that the supposed winner, the man known as Rita, has a problem with prematurely announcing his victory.

The crowd mumbled again when Dimick, after checking the man's card, announced that Rita had "one good bingo" and was temporarily safe from a faker's punishment, which would have included a few minutes of sitting in a dunce chair.

The Patterson High School graduate isn't all bite, however.

In fact, Dimick arranged for much of the weekly gaming profits to be donated to a local social service organization.

Since September 2002, his part-bingo, part-comedy act has brought in more than $25,000 for the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore, which offers mental-health referrals, wellness programs and other forms of assistance to those in need.

Center spokesman and board president Tim Hurley, who was on hand to accept another bingo-generated check on behalf of the group, said Dimick and the rest of the Hippo crew are "very philanthropic and benevolent."

Dimick's bingo nights have also helped to advance community relations by providing "informal diversity sensitivity training," said Hurley, who noted the presence of both gay and straight players.

"There is a real mix of people here. There must be a bingo gene in all of us," he said.

The Hippo is at 1. W. Eager St. For more information, call 410-547-0069 or visit www.club hippo.com. Patapsco Bingo is at 3321 Annapolis Road. For more information, call 410-354-3150. Bingo World is at 4901 Belle Grove Road. For more information, call 800-992-9300 or visit www .bingoworld.com.

For more club events, see Page 44.

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