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BINGO! Game draws big crowds on nightly basis, raises big money for nonprofits in Ozarks

Floyd Agee, 87, plays bingo seven nights a week at the Bingo Emporium. (Photo: Nathan Papes/News-Leader) Buy Photo

Last year, nearly $1 million was raised at the Bingo Emporium and went back to different nonprofits in the Ozarks.

It’s a Tuesday evening and the Bingo Emporium is bustling.

Floyd Agee, 87, is here seven nights a week. Sitting in the back, he stamps out his numbers. He’s been a player for 25 years.

“I’ve won quite a bit off and on. I won $9,000 once. I just love to play it,” Agee said, before turning his attention back to the board, not wanting to miss a number.

People flock to the Bingo Emporium, 2345 W. Catalpa St., where the game is played every day. The size of the crowd usually depends on the size of the pot. Tuesday and Saturday there’s always $1,000 up for grabs. Progressive pots can reach $7,000-$10,000. When that happens, it’s standing room-only, say volunteers.

But this isn’t just about the game. For many, it’s about charity.

Each night, a different nonprofit rents the Emporium. Bingo proceeds go back to the organization and the causes it supports, including Boys and Girls Clubs, Rare Breed and Ronald McDonald House.

Ron Enos, treasurer of the Compass Club Home Association Inc., which owns the building, estimates close to $1 million is generated annually from the Bingo Emporium to benefit area nonprofits.

In 2013, the Fraternal Order of Eagles 3934 and its auxiliary (Queen City Eagles Ladies) donated $130,00 to charities using bingo proceeds, said Rod Owen, president.

Bingo provides the biggest revenue stream for the Eagles because it’s consistent every week, said Owen.

Among other things, it has been used to purchase both drug dogs for the Greene County D.A.R.E. program, and helps feed the dogs and pay vet bills.

“Saturday nights average 260 to 300 people,” said Donis Davis, bingo chairman on Saturday nights and a member of the Eagles auxiliary.

“We give a lot to charities. We have to give 70 percent of what we make and we average $8,000 to $11,000 every Saturday.”

The Bingo Emporium — a 15,000-square-foot, 600-seat facility — was designed and constructed by the Knights of Columbus, St. Anne’s Council 698.

Technically the Knights don’t own the building because it’s not allowed to own property according to the nonprofit’s bylaws.

Instead, Knights of Columbus Compass Club Home Association, Inc., owns it, said Enos, who is treasurer.

This was set up to protect the Knights from being sued and losing its property, he said.

The Knights of Columbus, St. Anne’s Council 698 was chartered on Nov. 29, 1903.

A group of 61 men along with Rev. Peter Kilkenney and the V. Rev. John J. Lilly, were charter members of the council.

While the Emporium was built about a decade ago, the council has been involved with bingo for at least 25 years, said Enos.

Bingo is regulated by the Charitable Games Division of the Missouri Gaming Commission and by law, profits must go to charities.

The Emporium changed where the game was played for some.

For example, the Eagles used to organize a bingo night at its lodge on Plainview Road, but decided to move to the Emporium.

“The Bingo Emporium opened up and it was so central and it’s easy to get a crowd to go there because it was a consistent, easy location,” Owen said.

“Once they opened it up, it was more convenient to go there.”

The men operate it on Tuesday and the women’s auxiliary on Saturday. Other bingo nights at the Emporium include: Holy Trinity Knights of Columbus Council 9533 on Sunday, Hillcrest Marching Band Boosters Club on Monday, St. Agnes on Wednesday, Heart of the Ozarks Sertoma Club on Thursday, and St. Anne’s Knights of Columbus Council 698 on Friday.

Other nonprofits would like to get in on the game and take a night.

“We haven’t had vacancies in three years and I have a waiting list,” Enos said.

If you think bingo is just for seniors, think again.

Around here, the players range from age 18 to 90, Davis said.

“We have some that are dedicated bingo players who spend lots of money,” said Enos.

“Some play four to five times a week. Some come out to support a specific charity. The clientele fall into older, retired people; and then the young people who come out to have fun on Friday.”

People even drive up from Arkansas, said Davis.

And the game has changed.

Bingo is not just a straight or diagonal anymore. Winning formations vary from game to game, but include the “nine pack,” “crazy T,” “large picture frame” and “five around the corner.”

And other games, such as horse racing, are played at the Emporium.

The Emporium is staffed 100 percent by volunteers.

Bob Garrison, chaplain for Eagles, said he volunteers because he knows the money makes a difference in the community.

Violet Flair has been a member of the Eagles auxiliary for more than 20 years and is a regular volunteer.

A retired nurse, she loves helping others and enjoys the atmosphere.

“This is a good past time, a good place to go when you’re tired of the weather or need to get out. We have a lot of regulars that look forward to coming out,” Flair said.

Carolyn Deke, a chaplain and auxiliary member for more than a decade, said she joined to make a difference.

Bingo generates a lot of money but volunteers work hard to earn that money, Melanie Rappard said.

When the pot is big, they run ragged but enjoy the excitement.

At the end of the day, volunteers say they know the money is going toward good causes.

“The next day when you’re tired, you realize it’s all worth it,” Davis said.

The Bingo Emporium is not the only bingo venue in town. It’s possible to play every night of the week in Springfield and raise money for various charities. It’s the primary source of income for the VFW Post 3403, where bingo is played on Saturday nights. Here are some places you’ll find bingo in Springfield.

• Bennett Street Bingo Hall, 2032 W. Bennett St.

It's a Tuesday evening and the Bingo Emporium is bustling.

Bingo Halls in Springfield (Missouri)

Hall Name Town Address
Abou Den Adhem Temple Springfield 601 St Louis Street 65806-2413
American Legion 639 Springfield 2421 N Albertha 65803
American Legion 676 Springfield 65808
American Legion 69 Springfield 149 Memorial Plaza 65806
Elks 409 Springfield 2223 E Bennett 65804
Epilepsy Assn Springfield 309 N Jefferson #223 65806
Greater Ozarks Area MDA Springfield 435-K South Union 65802
Kickapoo Voiture 760 40 & 8 Springfield 2516 West Page 65802
Knights of Columbus 698 Springfield 2340 W Grand 65804
Ozark Empire Fleet Reserve Springfield 305 Park Central West 65806
Planned Parenthood Bingo Springfield 2032 W Bennett Rd 65807-1221
Sertoma Club Springfield 318 S Campbell Ave 65806-2050
Truth Lodge 151 Springfield 1504 W Loren 65807
VFW Springfield 1136 E Atlantic St 65803-3225

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