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Bingo: a super boring game that only old people play because their hips are too fragile for flag football. Agree? You shouldn't. Bingo is the goddamn Mos Eisley Cantina of the geriatric scene. It's a magnet for crime and violence, and the newest battleground in the war between millennials and the elderly. For some insight into this surprisingly vicious world, we talked with Gil. He's an assistant manager at a Bingo casino, and it sounds like he's lucky to make it out alive every day.
We'll start with the Bingo fights. Gil told us that small fights are pretty common: "They'll whack their neighbor with a purse, or slap them." Most of these altercations go no further, but once or twice a year, his Bingo hall sees an outright brawl. He told us about one recent fight which started because a woman called "Bingo" right as the caller was giving out a new set of numbers:
"The caller said, 'Oh, we have a winner!' but the woman next to her said, 'You started to call the next number. She missed it!' because that's the rule. The caller called me and a few confirmers up, and we agreed the second woman was right and voided the win. As soon as the caller said that, the woman who now lost said 'You bitch' and threw her bingo card like a Frisbee, hitting [the other woman] in the head. And she was on her. It wasn't like a boxing fight ... it was more like the losing woman (in her 60s, it should be mentioned) had her wrists held by the second woman (in her 60s/70s) for several seconds. [Then] the losing woman got an arm free and elbowed [the other] in the face ... and knocked her over. [Then] they rolled around on the floor, clawing at each other for half a minute until the associates, who were on stage for the ruling, could get to them."
Bingo players are a fractious and violent lot. Vicious fights are not unheard of in the Bingo halls of the world. For one thing, there's real money at stake in these games. For another, if you're 70 years old and playing Bingo every day, it's probably important enough to you that you'd be willing to cut a bitch over it. There are no real statistics on violence in Bingo, because "Bingo fight researcher" isn't a thing (yet), but gambling sites do feel the need to warn about the violence of Bingo. So does Gil.
"It's mostly clawing, or hitting with [a] purse. It gets ugly. All because they missed a number or broke an unwritten rule. 'No over-the-top cheering when you win' is one, and [this particular winner] said 'I beat you all!' while doing a mom dance up the aisle. Then she was shoved down by a regular who didn't like the tourist's attitude. But I have to give it to the tourist -- she was a 50-something woman wearing a Bill Cosby sweater, but after she was pushed down, she did a sweeping leg kick to the back of the other woman's knees and had her pinned down in some sort of karate move. If the confirmers didn't get there, it would have been even more ugly."
Some of the stark nastiness at the heart of modern Bingo comes from the inherent clash of generations. See, Bingo is currently gaining a much younger player base than usual. Yes, of all things, Bingo is apparently the only one to survive genocide by millennials. Of course, the older players aren't necessarily happy about this.
"There's animosity between the younger and older players. Neither likes it when the other wins. Younger players don't like older players because they feel they're too bossy, and older players don't think younger players know the proper etiquette. If one of them makes [a] mistake, the other group is going to pounce on it. Like if they forgot a rule of the game. They can be like kids, going over the most minute detail."
Possibly the greatest Bingo brawl in history resulted from this conflict between old and young. It happened last March in the United Kingdom, and saw up to ten people beating the holy hell out of each other.
But the bulk of the hate in modern Bingo is reserved for cheaters. "The only thing that unites everyone is when some player goes against a cardinal rule. Like, a few times a woman said 'Bingo!' and didn't have one -- later we found out [that was] a tactic so that others would rip up their cards. There was such an uproar when we found [out] she didn't win, and she had to leave -- not because of falsely calling bingo, but because we were afraid that they would all turn on her. If you ever want to see a hundred 80-year-old grandmothers getting vile and using the F-bomb, call out 'Bingo' during a Bingo game when you don't have one."
That's because thousands of dollars are at stake in some of these games. Gil told us one story that elevated Bingo cheating to the level of grand theft. "Some people found out where we bought our old cards, bought a batch, and secretly played some cards under the table. The newer cards have a shiny surface, so they're hard to cheat. But a mother-son team came up with the idea to print off square stickers with the correct coloring and numbers. So if they were a single number away from a Bingo and they had a number that fit and would make sense, they'd stamp it on and yell 'Bingo.'"
The scam worked for weeks, and the mother-son team took in an estimated $10,000 in prizes before they were finally caught. "[One] game, they stuck down a sticker at an angle. We couldn't see the edges of the sticker, but the number was askew by 10 percent. We scraped it off, and they tried to play dumb ... until we found a whole roll of stickers on them." Luckily for the thieves, Gil and his associates rendered the ensuing justice, rather than a mob of geriatric, cane-wielding vigilantes. Even so, it didn't go well for them. "Police were called. They stole."
Imagine having to tell your cellmate what you were in for.
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Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.