Eyes down! Elks bingo draws the crowds

By Rebecca Beirne

Did you know that you can find a bingo game on almost given night in and around Charlottesville? This was just one of many fascinating facts I learned when I ambled by the Wednesday night bingo fest at Elks Lodge No. 389, on Elk Road (really).
Even before I walked in the door, I got an education in local bingo from Donna Snow, a bingo regular. Her daughter-in-law, Cynthia Snow, got her hooked, and then Donna brought along her daughter, Melissa, and then co-worker Ruth Driggs. Now, the four women whoop it up every Wednesday, leaving their men to their own devices.
Bruce Duncan, the caller this evening, claims to have started the town’s first bingo game for the Jaycees. “I’ve helped just about every bingo in Charlottesville,” says Duncan, whose business, appropriately enough, is sales, service, and leasing of pinball machines and video games.
According to long-time Elk Larry Suddarth, a Wednesday volunteer, the games are regulated by the Virginia Charitable Gaming Commission. The proceeds, he says, “go into an account, and we are able to make contributions to community, state, and even national causes like Challenger Baseball and the All Night Long Prom.”
That’s comforting when you fork over the $20 participation fee, but hope springs eternal when you learn there are two $500 jackpots and a “winner take all” game at the end of the night.
Other opportunities to be charitable present themselves around the room, like the scratch-off ticket stand where you win or lose instantly. Or you can donate your money the old-fashioned way by purchasing refreshments from the concession stand run by the “Does.”
The Does are the ladies auxiliary, and they take turns running the stand and stocking it with such home-cooked items as fried chicken and lemon pudding bars. Suddenly I feel hungry.
With tables stretched across the room and players concentrating fiercely when numbers are called, I realize this is serious business.  Players come with their own ink stampers to mark their cards, and some have special sacks just to hold the multi-colored inks. I start to feel like an intruder as I chat with various participants and get some angry glances from others. I decide to make a quiet exit.
But I’m definitely going back to the Elks Lodge to play Bingo. It’s for a good cause, and hey, I might win some money. Even if I don’t, I can get some tasty fried chicken and have some thought-provoking conversation with my fellow bingo players (during intermission, of course).