Inuvik, bingo capital of planet Earth?

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Apr 11/97) - The world is divided into two groups of people: those who think any bingo is too much bingo and those who believe there's no such thing as too much bingo.

Many of the people here, a very good many, are part of the second group.

There are bingo games scheduled for every night this month. That's not so surprising, because the same was true of last month.

So what's the big appeal?

Tough to get an answer to that one, especially during a game, when all attention is focused on the cards.

At a recent bingo, a number of those asked responded as though they had been asked, "Why did you eat that gallon of ice cream last night?"

"No comment" and no response at all were the most common answers, delivered with looks that appeared a combination of irritation and a guilt.

"It's just something else for our husbands to get upset about," said one player.

"Especially when they don't know we're here," added her friend.

"It's a chance to make some money and a good fundraiser," explained Billie Lennie, one of the organizers of Saturday's Muskrat Jamboree bingo.

Lennie reported last year's edition of the event raised $10,000, all of it going back into the jamboree. "It's different this year," she added. "There's a lot less money to go around."

If there is less money this year, it wasn't showing Saturday night. An hour into the evening, all of the seats at the long tables set up on the floor of Davey Jones Arena were filled and organizers were starting to set up smaller tables to accommodate late arrivals.

Though the incentives are high -- $500 for winning a game and a $5,000 jackpot for the first person to fill out an entire card -- bingo is not cheap. There's a $20 cover charge to get into the game. Players pay another $30 for each book of 10 cards.

"It's got a lot better over the last few months, with TV bingo," said Gerri Sharpe-Staples. "There's less money being spent by both the players and organizations that run the bingos."

TV bingo is played from home on cards bought at Inuvik TV or the drug store's lotto booth for $5 apiece. Games are run from the local cable TV station and organized by local non-profit organizations.

Though cheaper, the TV version of the game offers even bigger prizes. Yesterday, for example, one of the jackpots in the ladies' auxiliary bingo stood at $11,000.

One drawback to TV bingo, though, is winners miss out on one of the joys of the game -- standing up in a crowded hall and shouting out "Bingo!"