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“In a regimented bingo hall, you can’t talk. Everybody will holler at you,” said Jim Munson, gambling manager at the VFW. “At bar bingo, everybody is jabbering and talking and the bartender is serving drinks.”
Findlay and her friends said they like the VFW atmosphere because it’s cheap entertainment — $1 a game.
“You’re not just sitting at a table drinking,” said Findlay, who lives in Coon Rapids.
She said some of her friends made fun of her for playing bingo — until they tried it themselves.
On this particular afternoon, she was vying for a modest pot: $48. Usually that first win is all it takes to get skeptics on board, she explained, before smacking an orange dot on B10 and yelling out, “Bingo!”
Back at Mystic Lake, Cosmic Bingo is in full swing. A spare seat is hard to find — but that’s not for lack of illumination. The games pack an average of 550 people per session, rivaling a busy downtown nightclub.
“It’s a place you can get away from your parents,” said Tina Thompson, 19, who lives in Farmington. “It’s so much fun.”
Thompson plays almost every weekend. On this night she clipped pink light-up pigtails to her real hair to “dress crazy.” The carnival atmosphere has players competing in hula-hoop contests between games and yelling just to be heard. When a player gets a bingo, the whole table has to scream in unison to get the caller’s attention.
Playing across the room, Gazda, 18, wore her newly acquired glow-in-the-dark necklace with pride. She’s new to the game. She says bingo is something her 94-year-old grandmother plays for fun.
But her grandma never needed all of these bells and whistles to play the game — bass-thumping music, neon lights, glowing jewelry and hula-hoopers.
Beyond all the razzle dazzle, Gazda said, there was one thing missing from her experience:
“I think it’s about time I won.”
Morgan Mercer is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.