Bingo is a simple game and a big charitable business, but operating a bingo hall is a complex undertaking. The process begins with state licensing; as a general rule the law looks on bingo as public gambling and regulates temporary bingo halls in the same manner as established casinos. There are logistical puzzles to be solved and staff to hire and train. Before the doors open and the tables start to fill, operators also must be mindful of concessions, entertainment, amenities and security.
Rules and Regulations
Check your state's regulations on bingo halls. As a "game of chance," bingo comes under the general definition of gambling, and operating a public venue is subject to licensing. Most states restrict bingo operations to nonprofits and charitable events. For example, in Colorado an application for a "bingo-raffle" license must include a copy of the articles and bylaws of your organization, which must be at least five years old. A Coloradan must also submit a list of all organization members who will be involved in the bingo operation.
Rent Your Space
After you handle licensing, the next step is hall rental, which may also be subject to state law and regulations as well as local zoning ordinances. In the search for a good venue, the prime consideration is space and accessibility for your patrons. Bingo halls earn money by selling bingo cards to players; the more players in attendance, the higher your revenue. The hall should be easy to get to and have adequate restroom facilities, plenty of parking and readily available refreshments and food. Charitable bingo is often associated with large, well-attended events such as state fairs, holiday parades, weekend markets, athletic tournaments and business conferences. Coordinating logistics and publicity with the organizers of these events can be the key to a successful bingo operation.
Bingo has long passed the days of printed paper cards and plastic-token placeholders. The game has been digitized. Many players use automated "card minders" to keep track of the numbers called out and their own hits. Also involved are point-of-sale stations, printers, remote access equipment, accounting reports and software. This equipment has to be purchased or rented by the operator from a licensed vendor. Of course, many bingo halls still do it "old-school" by offering paper cards, "daubers" to manually mark the numbers, and ticket holders. Still, an attractive bingo cage or a ball-blower, a professional-looking flashboard and a functional PA system for the announcer are essential to keep the players interested.
Staff and Publicity
Finally, organize your staff. Hire an announcer with a flair for the dramatic, which enhances the game for players. Simply droning out numbers can quickly bore the patrons. For a larger operation, you may also need flashboard operators, card sellers, payout staff and concession people. Renting security services is also often a good idea. Once staff is hired and equipment is in place, get notices into local media, print flyers, buy radio spots and work through your nonprofit network to publicize the event.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.