The bingo hall on the second floor of the Lorton Volunteer Fire Department is full of winners twice a week. Winning by chance — it's what keeps them coming back, especially when $10,000 in cash is handed out at games on Mondays and Fridays each week.
This past Friday, 62 local residents (most of them cheerfully addicted and seriously focused), played 33 games for more than three hours. With brightly colored punch markers, they expertly dotted sheets of bingo cards, and stayed glued to their seats with the looming prospect of winning the $1,000 jackpot in the final game of the night.
"Have you ever played bingo?" asked Chief Earl Curtis of the Lorton Volunteer Fire Department. "Then don't start. It's like becoming an alcoholic. People just keep on playing and don't really have the money to play."
The Lorton Volunteer Fire Department has been funded by bingo since it opened in 1954. "We just bought a new med unit for $203,000. The next thing we need is a squad truck. That'll cost about $750,000, and it'll take about three years for us to get that," said Curtis, who abstains from bingo. "My wife, though, she spends about $800 a week (on bingo), and that's nothing. Some people spend way more than that. Don't ask me where they get it from. Luckily, I've got a comfortable retirement."
Addicted to Bingo
Fair warning — don't ever sit at the back-right corner table of the Lorton Volunteer Fire Department on Monday or Friday nights.
"This is my table and everybody knows it," said Springfield's Jean Kincheloe, now retired after 30 years as a cashier at Giant. "Nobody else better sit here."
Like many players, Kincheloe plays with specialized voice-activated laptops that can hold up to 54 cards. The cherry red machines punch in bingo numbers after the announcer calls them in through the microphone. In the event of a bingo, the machine lights up and plays congratulatory music. Most games will pay $100 to the winner, and others pay up to $2,500.
Kincheloe spends $300 a week on bingo cards, and her corner table is occupied by three bingo machines and her bingo cards. "My husband likes television too much to come out, but he likes it when I come home with money. Course, he don't get none of it! It's all mine," she said.
Kincheloe, like many at the VFD on Friday night, won big the very first time she played bingo. "About 20 years ago, my friend invited me to play at Fort Myer and I won $5,000, and I bought a fence for my house. After that I was hooked," she said.
Betty Simon, a retired Fairfax County special education teacher, occupies her time with bingo and bowling. "I started playing about 30 years ago, and the first time I played I won $1,000," said Simon, who buys $100 worth of bingo cards twice a week. "I just tell myself before I leave the house that I'm going to make money tonight."
Insurance agent Michael Mintzer of Springfield won $4,000 last month playing bingo in Lorton. "I hit the jackpot three times in July, and I spend $130 every time I play," he said. "I do think I'm a lucky person. I won five grand from Pick Four, and I won $1,000 on a $10 scratch card."
Monique "Candy" Wyche, of Woodbridge, grew up in a military family and started playing bingo on bases with her mother. "I've been playing ever since I was 10-years-old," said Wyche, a supervisor for the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission. "The best I've probably cleared is $5,000 in a month, and I'm looking forward to having that happen again real soon."
Elijah Johnson, 9, lives in Landover, Md., and played bingo with his family for the first time last week. He won $100, and now has a new nickname.
"They call me 'Luck-E-lijah'," Elijah said. "But it's just what they call beginner's luck."
You can play bingo at the Lorton Volunteer Fire Department every Monday and Friday, from 7:30-10:30 p.m.