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January 23, 2014

Bill may raise gaming prize limits

TERRE HAUTE — Raising prize limits in bingo halls sounds beneficial, but it also would mean attracting larger crowds to match higher prizes, representatives of some Terre Haute organizations say.

A proposed bill in the Indiana Senate, which passed out of committee Wednesday, would raise prize limits on bingo, pull tabs, punchboards and tip boards, as well as single prize limits for nonprofit fraternal, religious, educational and charity organizations.

It would raise the top prize to $30,000 for “super” bingo games, higher than the current $10,000 limit.

It would also raise the total prizes for pull tabs, punchboards or tip boards to $25,000, up from the current $5,000. It also increases the prize limit for a single prize to $15,000, up from $599.

Darrel Knight, quartermaster of the VFW Post No. 972 in Terre Haute, said he supports the concept, but does not think it would have much impact on the VFW post.

Knight said the VFW raises most of its money from raffle items such as pull tabs.

“To have a $15,000 single prize, you are looking at 20,000 tickets to get that kind of money. You would need more than 250 people. A good night for us is 180 to 185 people,” Knight said.

“With the crowds that we have had, I don’t know that it would affect us all that much. Here lately, we have been having about 150 people,” he said. When outside temperatures warm, Knight said he expects that number to increase.

Still, a move to provide higher prizes is something Knight said he would be willing to try.

“Anything that is new that might bring in more people who want to play pull tabs, that is fine,” Knight said.

Bingo, he said, is essentially “a lost leader like in a grocery store. You have to have bingo to bring in people to play pull tabs,” he said.

For example, the VFW Post No. 972 last year generated $39,010 from bingo, while retaining $211,318 from raffle items, such as pull tabs, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission.

Jim Sink, secretary for the Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 291 in Terre Haute, also favors the changes.

“While it would probably not make a difference for us, I am still in favor of it,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with raising the limits.”

However, Sink said to offer a single winning prize of $15,000 “you will have to pack people in, and we are not big enough.”

Sink said the average number of players has dropped in the past two years. The number of players is now 50 to 60 people, down from 90, he said.

“I don’t think being non-smoking has caused us to lose that many people, as it was [enacted] countywide and statewide,” he said. “I think it is down because of the economy.”

The Eagles Lodge lost $37,491 on bingo in 2013, but retained $214,703 from pull tab raffle items, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission.

Ray Marshall, 77, has been playing at the Eagles for the past five years and played bingo 12 years before that at a VFW. “I think if they raise the prize, you will have more people come in more often. I think it would be a win-win all around.”

Jackie Mardis said as she waited to play bingo Wednesday at the Eagles. “I love the idea. When I go home to Virginia, they have big prizes like that.”

“I think it’s way overdue,” said Beverly Patterson, as she entered the Eagles Wednesday, also to play bingo. “I think it would be more exciting. They don’t pay enough money now. When you win more money it’s more fun.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@

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