Alle-Kiski Valley bingo halls feel burned

| Monday, Feb. 13, 2012

Local bingo hall operators say many of their faithful players are spending their money elsewhere.

As a result, volunteer fire departments and social clubs in the Alle-Kiski Valley aren't making as much money as they used to through the game, meaning they have less for operating expenses and charitable donations.

"We figure there are three factors involved: the smoking ban, the poor economy and the casinos," said John Grillo, an officer with VFW Post 92 in Lower Burrell, which sponsors bingo on Tuesdays.

"Our attendance first took a beating when the smoking ban went into effect (in 2008)," he said. "The same thing happened when the casinos opened. We can't be competitive with, say, the Rivers Casino, which offers smoking inside. And the other thing is, with the economy and layoffs, I really don't feel like people speculate as much anymore because there's not enough left at the end of the paycheck."

Grillo said the VFW used to have more than 300 people turn out for its weekly bingo. A good showing now is about 250 people, he said.

Fewer people means less revenue. Grillo said the post's bingo income is down about 30 percent.

For a $9 investment on any given Tuesday night, players have a shot at winning more than $1,000 at the VFW. Grillo said many gamblers favor their chances at the casino.

Craig Clark, Rivers Casino general manager, said the casino creates jobs and generates millions in tax revenue.

"Rivers Casino offers a wide array of entertainment, dining and gaming options, and employs more than 1,700 team members. Plus, Rivers is a major economic engine, contributing approximately $175 million annually in taxes for the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the commonwealth," he said.

Kevin Abraham, who runs the New Kensington Arnold Lions Club bingo, agreed with Grillo's reasons for the drop in the number of people showing up for bingo.

The Lions Club, which hosts bingo on Monday and Saturday, once drew about 160 players per night. That has been cut in half, Abraham said.

Because of the drop in participation, the club has cut its payouts, "which is the exact opposite of what you want to do," Abraham said.

To attract players, the Lions advertises through mailers and phone calls, he said.

Bob Morrow, who runs bingo for the Tarentum Elks, said the club's bingo turnout and profit are down at least 20 percent.

"Right now, we're struggling to meet the quota we need to meet," he said.

Morrow said the club continues to offer the game because members enjoy it.

"The profit's not there like it used to be, but the people we have working enjoy socializing with the bingo people," he said. "We just have fun with it."

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